AZUSA, Calif. -- Another classic in the storied Azusa Pacific/Biola rivalry was etched into the history books Wednesday afternoon, as the NAIA’s No. 3-ranked Cougars completed a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 overtime victory over Biola in the Golden State Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Junior Sven Simon headed in the equalizer with just 13 seconds to play in regulation to send the game to overtime, and senior Skelly Kellar headed home the game-winner 4 minutes and 31 seconds into the first of 2 10-minute sudden-death overtime periods.
"We were originally going to play the corner kick short, but we didn't like the way it was setting up," said Kellar, who positioned himself at the near post as junior Brandon Stirm lined up a corner kick from the left side. "Stirmy played a perfect ball to me. I didn't even have to jump – I felt like it just hit my head and went in."
With time ticking away in the final minutes of regulation and the packed Biola defense doing an effective job clearing the ball away from danger, senior Dustin McBride played a ball into the box, where the Cougars had been turned away all game. Simon rose above the defender and headed the ball over Biola goalkeeper Ryan George and into the back of the net for his team-leading eighth goal of the season.
"Once Dustin went in to play the ball, I didn't care where he put it," said Simon. "When he crossed it inside, I told myself I would get to it no matter what happened. I just wanted that ball more than anyone else in the world. Once you stop believing in yourself, no one else will believe in you, either."
With just over 10 minutes to play, the Cougars trailed 2-0 and appeared headed for certain defeat, despite peppering Biola with 28 shots, including 10 on goal. The aggressive Azusa Pacific attack finally paid off in the 80th minute, when Simon knocked a cross to the left side of the goal to junior Brandon Stirm, who sent a line drive past George to the far post to bring the Cougars to within 2-1, but the Cougars were only able to generate 1 shot opportunity, a Simon header just over the net with under 4 minutes to play, before putting in the game-tying goal.
"To be honest, we played poorly after scoring our first goal, but you still have to believe that you can find a way to make goals in the end," said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf. "As a coach, you try to demand that belief from your players and hold them accountable for giving their very best at all times, but it's what's in their chest that matters."
Cody Moore put Biola on the board early on a well-executed attack that began with a play into the box from Omar Villablanca in the Eagles midfield. J.T. Searles won Villablanca’s ball in the box and headed it across to Moore, who headed it past Cougar goalkeeper James Crawford to give Biola a 1-0 lead. The advantage marked just the second game in which Azusa Pacific has trailed this season, and Nick Bautista’s finish in the 42nd minute off a rebound of Searles’ deflected free kick saved by Crawford in front of the goal gave Biola something no other team has had against the Cougars – a 2-goal lead, which held up through halftime and nearly 35 minutes of the second half.
"We thought we had the good chances, and the only frustrating thing for us was the time it took us to get our first goal," said Kellar. "Biola had a solid back line all day, but we kept our cool and just believed that we would win."
Kellar took a game-high 7 shots and put 4 on goal , including his game-winner, and Stirm cracked 5 shots to pace the Azusa Pacific attack. Searles was the leading Biola attacker, putting 4 shots on goal, with Crawford saving each opportunity for the Cougars.
"In many ways, we played one of our best games of the year," said Wolf. "This is 1 of those great games you always remember, no matter how many games you have been involved in. Guys will remember the goals they scored, the passes they made in this game, and it will always stick with everyone involved."
With the win, Azusa Pacific wins its GSAC opener for the third straight season and is now 1-0 in GSAC, 6-1 overall, while Biola drops to 0-1 in GSAC, 4-2 overall. The Cougars return to action Sept. 30 when they visit No. 20-ranked Westmont, which dropped its conference opener this afternoon at No. 16-ranked Concordia, 2-1.