With a little more than 10 seconds remaining, Free State High sophomore Evan Smith churned toward the net, the fans in the stands loudly clamoring for a goal.
Smith ripped a shot high at the net, but the Mill Valley keeper skied for the ball, punching it just over the crossbar as the clock wound to zero.
It was a familiar feeling for the Free State boys soccer team, after it tied Mill Valley, 1-1, in double overtime Monday at FSHS.
The match was a culmination of all that has troubled the Firebirds (5-8-2) this season, leaving coach Kelly Barah at a loss.
“This might be the only time as a coach that I didn’t have any words (after the game),” Barah said. “You have to find some, but it was tough.”
The Firebirds outshot the Jaguars (5-8-2), won more loose balls and controlled possession longer. They still could only find the back of the net once, on sophomore Jacob Walter’s goal at 27:48 in the second half.
“Going into the playoffs, we have to find a way to convert every possession now into something concrete,” Barah said.
Free State was the aggressor in the first half, using that stifling ball control to generate good scoring chances. Their shots were either steered aside by the keeper or just missed.
Seniors Alec Heline and Hunter Peirce each barely missed netting early goals, and Peirce nearly banged one home after a scramble in front of the Jaguars’ goal box to close out the half.
“We were frustrated. Coach was frustrated. We were just going to come out trying to relax and get a goal,” Heline said.
That disappointment grew, as Jaguar forward Trace Linton ripped one past Elliott Johnson for the 1-0 edge to begin the second half.
Barah said the lackluster start to the second half was another theme that has been too common this season.
“I think that’s why we’ve given up a couple of not very nice goals, and we’ve been chasing games as opposed to being ahead and then controlling it through our possession,” he said.
The Firebirds picked up the pace and continued to mount chances, which finally materialized when Walter ripped one into the back of the net.
Despite more and more scoring opportunities for the Firebirds, the game moved to overtime, where a goal by Heline was disallowed on an offsides call.
Heline had a few more chances to score in the second overtime and was upset that he couldn’t get a clean shot on net.
“I had a couple right there, I just couldn’t finish them,” he said.
As the minutes began melting off the clock, the Jaguars seemed content to stuff the Firebird attempts, clear the ball, and regroup — but the Firebirds fought aggressively for the win.
“It’s a lot of fun to play at the end when it’s like that,” Heline said. “But it’s a lot harder, because they’ll drop everyone in the back and it gets really congested.”
And when Peirce fed a perfect ball to the streaking Smith, FSHS thought they had the winner.
“From where I was standing, it looked like it was in,” Barah said.
With another game today on Senior Night, Heline said the Firebirds had to shake this one off in a hurry.
“We have to rest up,” Heline said. “It’s hard to come off of a double-overtime. We’re going to really prepare ourselves for (today). We’re all going to come out hard.”
Barah, emotional at the thought of his 10 seniors playing their last home match, said he wanted to send them out with a bang.
“(We can’t) make the moment too big, because it already is,” he said. “We just need to keep our cool, find opportunities and make sure we finish on those.”