AZUSA, Calif. -- An eventful night at the Cougar Soccer Complex began with five first-half goals, continued with an emergency helicopter landing, and concluded with a couple of overtimes and a 4-3 Azusa Pacific victory over Pacific West Conference rival Hawaii Pacific Thursday night.
Freshman forward Keenan Armbrust delivered the game-winner in the 107th minute, finishing off a scramble in front of the net following a flick ahead from Kevin Yang to lift the Cougars to the thrilling win. The result dropped Hawaii Pacific from its perch as the PacWest’s only remaining unbeaten, and it propelled Azusa Pacific into the top-five of the league standings with a 4-2 PacWest record along with its 6-3-1 overall mark.
The Cougars got off to a slow start in their first meeting with Hawaii Pacific in 17 years. The Sea Warriors got on the board first in the second minute when junior midfielder Alejandro Porras intercepted a pass from the Azusa Pacific defense at the top of the 18-yard box. Porras made a quick cut and buried it in the bottom left corner.
Hawaii Pacific kept applying the pressure with a one-goal lead, and in the 10th minute senior goalkeeper Joe Geletko safely pushed a right footed volley over the bar, his first of four saves on the match.
Porras got back to it in the 17th minute, taking advantage of a long clearance into the Cougar half. Porras played a ball to sophomore forward Daniel Haehre who fed him right back, and Porras remained on target, tucking in another shot inside the far post past Geletko to push the lead to 2-0.
For senior center back Hiroshi Metzker, a Honolulu native, the early two-goal deficit served as a wake-up call.
“We started off really slow,” Metzker said. “The second goal really opened our eyes and we realized we had to get going. It definitely was a wake up call for us, and it showed when our play for the rest of the half was far better than the first 20 minutes.”
Jolted to life, Azusa Pacific needed less than 10 minutes to put away three goals over a three-minute span. Senior midfielder Oktay Bulut started the comeback after the Cougars were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty box for a foul that pulled sophomore forward Carlos Garcia-Partida down near the top of the box. Junior midfielder Jeremy Bishop played the ball to his left for Bulut, who placed it into the left corner in the 24th minute.
Exactly 40 seconds later, Garcia-Partida headed in a cross from junior midfielder Michael Sahagian just seconds after the Sea Warriors had been issued a yellow card. Then, almost two minutes later, junior midfielder Steven Shiokari took a pass from senior defender John Tribbey, cut to his right around the defense and struck it over the diving Lefebvre to complete the stunning turnaround and give Azusa Pacific a 3-2 lead.
The exciting first half, with five combined goals, was a teaser to a rather uneventful second half until the 74th minute when Hawaii Pacific answered. Porras added an assist to his point-filled night, feeding the ball to senior forward Heimana Chene who found an opening along the right side with a shot to the near post that tied the game at three with almost 17 minutes remaining in regulation.
As the final minutes ticked away and the game seemed destined for overtime, a police car with lights flashing entered the facility at the 84-minute mark, interrupting the contest to clear the facility for a helicopter landing to provide emergency medical transport unrelated to the contest. All spectators and participants cleared the facility for the helicopter landing, and the game was suspended for 15 minutes before picking back up for the final six minutes of regulation.
“Obviously you try to play a solid, consistent 90 minutes, and sometimes things are going to change,” Cougar head coach Dave Blomquist said. “When goals are scored, the game changes, or when the game comes to an abrupt halt, the game will change. You try to make those changes better when those things happen, and tonight I thought we did a good job with that.”
Azusa Pacific finally found what they were looking for in the 107th minute. Yang put a head on the ball after a long throw from Sahagian, which caused a scramble in the box before Yang got it ahead to Armbrust to put away and finish with the outside of his right foot.
“Keenan played well,” Blomquist said. “Throughout the game, his movement up top was really great. He hustled and he was involved in most of the dangerous plays we had.”
After handing Hawaii Pacific its first setback of 2012 PacWest play, Azusa Pacific returns to action Monday to kick off a busy three-game week. Monday’s game is a 1 p.m. matchup with Holy Names.