Topeka Free State High soccer coach Jason Pendleton's confidence grew with every scoreless minute that ticked off the Firebirds' state-playoff meeting with Topeka High on Thursday.
Then the shootout began.
After the teams went 110 minutes without a score, Free State's Aaron Ideus drilled the game-winner into the left corner of the goal to give the Firebirds a two-goal advantage in the shootout and an unprecedented 1-0 victory over the Trojans.
The victory, Free State's 13th this season, is a school record, and it will send the Firebirds into the state quarterfinals for the second time in program history.
"It's a little bit surreal right now," Pendleton said. "We'll play it up. We're extremely proud of our accomplishment, and we'll make sure the people in the school and the younger players know all about it."
As Thursday's game wore on, Pendleton said he became
more convinced the Firebirds' superior fitness ultimately would prevail.
But after 80 minutes of scoreless regulation, two goal-less 10-minute overtimes and two scoreless five-minute overtimes - that's 110 minutes without a score; the same teams played 100 goal-less minutes in a 0-0 tie during the regular season - the game went to the shootout.
"We were a little worried," Pendleton said. "They only use a shootout in the postseason. We had won some games in overtime, and we had some positive experiences in close games this year that helped pull us through. Our kids refused to lose. It's a silly adage, but in every overtime, our kids were pumped, excited."
In the shootout format, each team selects five players, each of whom attempts to score against the opponent's goalkeeper.
FSHS and Topeka each missed their first tries, but Alex Clayton scored, and Brian Hatesohl saved Topeka's shot for a 1-0 FSHS lead after the second round. Each goalie recorded a save in the third round. K.J. Siebert made it 2-0 after Free State's fourth-round attempt, but Topeka made its shot, too, to cut it to 2-1 and force the fifth round.
That's when Ideus drilled the game-winner for an insurmountable 3-1 lead.
"We had been practicing that the last couple of weeks, because in the back of my mind I knew it was a possibility," Pendleton said of the shootout.
Halfway through Thursday's final OT, Pendleton dispatched assistant coach Colin Baumchen to dig a roster out of Pendleton's bag and rank the Firebirds in the order they should shoot. The aide's list, Pendleton said, was dead-on.
"I hoped we wouldn't get to a shootout," Pendleton said. "But I have to give credit to coach Baumchen for making the list. I would have changed it if I needed to, but he's an astute observer."
Though Ideus's goal was the most dramatic, Siebert's was the most unlikely. It was partially blocked by Topeka's goalie, and Pendleton was surprised it found net.
"He made that kick, and I said, 'How did you get that to go in?'" Pendleton said. "He said, 'Coach, I just willed it in.' And that's what tonight was. Our seniors, our four defenders, our goalkeeper, all our seniors just did a tremendous job, and our seniors willed us to victory."
Asked to single out players, Pendleton hesitated.
"Brian Hatesohl was big. Our defenders, John Sneegas, Brian Bracciano, David Turvey and Aaron Ideus were just outstanding tonight," Pendleton said. "We got good play from Greg Glatz. Kyle Cross played really well. But overall, our team played outstanding soccer tonight. They really bought into what we were trying to do all season. You could just see the team concept emerging, and in the end, that was the most exciting thing."
Free State (13-4-1) will face a to-be-determined foe in Tuesday's quarterfinals.
"Whoever we're playing probably will be the favorite to win the state championship," Pendleton said. "But this sort of environment is what these kids want to play in and deserve to play in. We're excited. It's a huge opportunity for us."