- February 8, 2018
WEST ORANGE COUNTY Shot after shot pounded Dr. Phillips goalie Eli Smith in the second half like cannons.
One by one, he turned away them all for almost 80 minutes of play.
Cesar Gonzalez, whose free kick amounted to the Panthers' lone goal early in their soccer rivalry match at Olympia, headed away a cross from the box for the third time in the final minutes.
The ball traveled to the foot of Nicolas de la Portilla, who floated a long lob over Smith's outstretched glove and into the upper-left corner on the far side with 8 seconds showing on the scoreboard.
Fans erupted in the bleachers as de la Portilla ran toward them in jubilation.
That goal just before the final whistle meant a 1-1 tie, keeping the Titans (7-0-2, 2-0-2 district) undefeated this season and the Panthers (3-1-3, 0-0-3) unbeaten and winless in district play.
That was too close for comfort for Olympia head coach Lou Romao, who said his team had started too flat and held the ball too long, a theme at times for the Titans this season.
"Sure, we're still undefeated, but that's not really something that I'm happy about, and I think we've got to ... start coming out for these games and stop looking at the scoreboard ... and worry about the team in front of us," Romao said. "Hats off to DP and their coaching staff -- they did a great job. They had their boys prepared. We obviously thought we did, but we did not have ours prepared."
None was more prepared than Smith, who absorbed point-blank shots and deflected away chances labeled for goal by the tips of his gloves throughout the match. He and his defense labored the whole second half to keep the ball away from the net, nearly succeeding in what would have been a well-earned shutout.
"Last year, he had some weaknesses; he obviously fixed them up," Romao said of Smith. "I applaud him for that. He saved a lot of good shots ... He came out on the ball; he knew what to do -- it was a huge help."
Romao said despite a subpar performance, the last-minute goal against a talented goalie felt great. Still, Dr. Phillips outplayed his Titans in his mind, with Olympia having incorrectly taken their archrival lightly in a heated, physical contest.
Olympia freshman Joao Kozlowski, who entered the game in the second half, saw little action in goal at the other end but then saved two penalty kicks in a consolation shootout to make the Titans the winner of the rivalry this year -- with the tie ultimately counting in FHSAA records.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected]