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These Cats Have 9 Lives

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November 17, 2006
Gary Pine
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In the longest NAIA Tournament game ever decided by a shootout, Kolt Callaway buried the 20th penalty kick into the upper right corner to propel Azusa Pacific into the quarterfinals of the NAIA Men’s Soccer Championship Tournament after the Cougars played Lee University (Tenn.) to a 1-1 draw in first-round play Friday evening.

Callaway’s attempt went right while Lee keeper Luidgi Beauzile guessed left to cap a shootout that easily bested the previous record-long shootout of 11 PKs (Auburn-Montgomery vs. Bethel in the 2001 NAIA Tournament).

The two teams combined to make the first 16 PKs of the shootout with Azusa Pacific answering every Lee goal, including 3 sudden-death rounds for an 8-8 tie. In the ninth round, Cougar keeper James Crawford made a spectacular kick-save, but, Beauzile was equal to the task in stopping the Cougars’ ninth attempt off the foot of Eric Winblad. Crawford came right back and blocked Lee’s next attempt to set up Callaway’s heroics and end nearly 3 hours of playoff soccer.

“The maturity and desire that this team has displayed is amazing,” said Cougar coach Phil Wolf. “They were not going to give in, and Kolt was not going to be denied.”

Behind the superlative play of its defense, Azusa Pacific appeared to be headed toward of regulation victory over the high-scoring Flames. The Cougars took an early 1-0 lead in the 13th minute on Sven Simon’s team-leading 12th goal of the season, and then relied on the play of defenders Jared Karkas, Mark Peters, Tony Rotunno and Winblad to thwart an offense that came into the tournament averaging nearly 4 goals a game. The Cougars stoned Lee at every turn, and there were many of them. In fact, Lee produced an NAIA Tournament record 17 corner kicks while the Cougars managed just 2.

“I thought we did a great job of covering for each other tonight,” said the freshman Winblad. “We had each other’s back, but I’m mentally tired. We were constantly under pressure in the second half.”

Simon’s tally nearly stood the test of time until Lee’s Ivan Heredia rifled in a rebound off a post shot in the 84th minute to force the 2 overtime periods and eventually the shootout.

“They were just pressuring us the entire second half, and they caught us on our back foot,” said Wolf. “Once we got into overtime, I think we were able to settle down and play a more even game with them.”

The Flames had 2 good opportunities to end the game but each time Crawford stepped up, all part of his 6 saves on the evening. The Cougars had one quality scoring chance late in the second overtime but Skelly Kellar’s shot just sailed wide right from about 15 yards out as he was sprinting downfield, being hounded by a Flame defender.

Lee was given the opportunity to go first during the shootout and converted its first 8 attempts, even though Crawford guessed right on 3 of the Flames’ attempts.”

“Two of them were just out of my reach and one of them went off my fingertips and into the net,” Crawford described. “I just tried to remain calm. I’ve never played in a game this big, but I kind of enjoy the pressure that comes with penalty kicks.”

Azusa Pacific successfully answered Lee’s challenge each time. In the ninth round, Lee turned to its keeper, Beauzile, for the PK and Crawford stopped him, diving to his left but keeping his feet centered which in turn allowed him to make the first save of the shootout.

“This is unbelievable,” said junior MF Brandon Stirm, who admitted his mind wandered back to the 2004 NAIA tourney when Azusa Pacific was bounced from play in a shootout with Mobile. “I’ve never played in a game that went to 9 PKs. I was physically and mentally drained.”

Now 15-3-3 on the season, Azusa Pacific moves into the NAIA quarterfinals for the second consecutive year and has little time to rest for this year’s tournament Cinderella team. The Cougars meet Northwood University (Fla.) in a 2 p.m. (PST) game Saturday. Northwood, which is 11-10-1 on the season, advanced to the quarterfinals by taking a shootout following a 1-1 tie with Hastings (Neb.) and then knocking off the tournament’s top seed, Auburn-Montgomery, in a 3-2 upset Thursday night.