WINTER PARK, Fla. (Men’s Soccer) – Florida Tech scored the game’s first goal on a penalty kick in the 17th minute and then continued to control play for the rest of the half. But No. 11 Rollins evened the game in the 65th minute, and then found the game winner in the 89th minute to escape with a 2-1 victory in the Florida Blue Sunshine State Conference Championship Quarterfinals on Tuesday at Cahall-Sandspur Field at Barker Family Stadium.
“The boys played well tonight,” head coach Robin Chan said. “It is just one of those games where you feel like you should walk away with a different result. But I am proud of them. They worked hard and had good spirit.”
Redshirt senior Brentton Muhammad made a brilliant diving save in the eighth minute to keep the game scoreless between Florida Tech (10-4-3) and Rollins (13-3-2). Muhammad made nine saves in the first meeting on Sept. 26 at Barker Family Stadium in a scoreless draw.
In the 17th minute, Ricky Menendez went for a loose ball to the right of the Rollins goalkeeper Keneil Baker. Baker challenged Menendez, but did so illegally with his spikes up, taking Menendez down in the box. A yellow card was issued to Baker, and the Panthers received a penalty kick.
Sophomore Yannis Pele went straight to the penalty mark and awaited the referee’s signal for the kick. The whistle blew, Pele struck the ball and Baker dove. But didn’t dive far enough as the net shook to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
In the 25th minute, Brandon Ledene fed the ball up the near side to Pele, who was streaking down the left side. Pele crossed the ball to an open Antoine Aupiais on the far side, but the Rollins keeper intercepted it to end the threat.
Seven minutes before halftime, the Tars were given an opportunity to tie the game. Brett Durrance had a break down the far side, but a challenging Muhammad made the save with his legs to give FIT a 1-0 halftime lead.
The Panthers opened the second half still controlling much of the play. Jeremy Tilley drove a shot from 20 yards out in the 52nd minute that forced Rollins’ Baker to make a diving save to his right.
Six minutes later, Pele curled a shot from 25 yards out that was eyeing the top left corner. But Baker sprawled out again to punch the ball out for an FIT corner kick.
Rollins finally developed a scoring threat in the 65th minute. Philip Schad, driving down the far side, centered the ball into the box. The Tars’ Grant Blackhurst, with one touch, beat Muhammad left side to tie the game at 1-1.
The Panthers didn’t show any quit.
In the 80th minute, Aupiais beat a defender on the near side inside the 18-yard box and centered it to Drake Hillman. Hillman put it just over the goal frame. On the ensuing counter, Muhammad made a sliding save to take the ball off the foot of a Tar player, keeping the game tied.
Five minutes later, Hillman showed his leg strength. From 30 yards out, the forward roped a shot toward the upper right corner of the goal. Rollins’ Baker made yet another diving save when it looked like a goal was going to be scored.
With just under two minutes remaining in regulation, Rollins’ Blackhurst found himself in position again. Blackhurst juked one way and then sent a hard shot the ball around a Panther defender and off a diving Muhammad and into the goal to give the Tars their first lead of the game, 2-1.
The final seconds ticked off the clock and the Panthers were eliminated from the SSC Tournament. But they didn’t go down quietly. The Panthers’ offensive pressure from the first meeting with Rollins on Sept. 26 to tonight’s match improved. The defense also held the Tars to just eight shots, after allowing 21 in the first meeting.
“We grew as a team over that period,” Chan said of his team since the last meeting against Rollins. “We were a different team here tonight than we were in the last game. We had the same spirit, but the confidence and familiarity with this young team was there tonight.”
FIT’s needed the victory over Rollins to keep its chances for an NCAA Tournament bid alive. With now only three teams from the South Region advancing, the Panthers will likely conclude the 2012 season with their 10-4-3 record.