Bubba Neilsen, #9, directs the ball toward the net, as the Camp Verde Cowboys and the Payson Longhorns battled to a final shoot-out. The Longhorns won with an official score of Horns 3 - Cowboys 2.
Photo by Andy Towle.
Those are a few of the superlatives fans shouted as they charged onto Rumsey Park field Thursday night to wrap hugs of congratulations around Longhorn soccer players, who had just rallied back from two deficits to defeat Camp Verde, 3-2, in a sudden death shoot-out.
In the Division IV first-round state playoff game, Camp Verde — a huge underdog because it had lost to Payson three times by 3-0 scores in the regular season — came out on fire, jumping to a 1-0 lead in the first half and expanding it to 2-0 midway through the second half.
But just when it looked like the Longhorn ship was listing and about to sink, the PHS crew righted itself when Noe Vega headed an inbounds pass from Guillermo Lopez into the goal to pull Payson within 2-1.
Just minutes later, Vega again rose to the occasion to score the game-tying goal.
Throughout the remainder of the second half, the two defensive-minded teams ferociously battled to a stalemate, two heavyweights slugging it out toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring.
With the scored dead-knotted 2-2 in regulation, the two rivals squared off in a first overtime.
While both squads had decent shots on goal, neither could score, leading to a second overtime.
Once again, the squads pounded one another in a riveting scene that would render Rocky Balboa proud.
But neither team could score to break the tie and claim an outright victory.
So, officials called for penalty kicks or what is more commonly known as a shoot-out.
Each coach selected five players to take the kicks. Each then took a shot at a goal guarded by only a goalie.
Once again, Camp Verde jumped out to 2-0 lead and at one point needed only a single goal to record the upset of the season by beating Payson.
But much like a Phoenix bird, the Horns rose up from the ashes to tie the shoot-out 3-3.
At this point, the hours-long game more resembled a marathon that a prep soccer clash.
Because both teams made an equal number of penalty kicks in the first shoot-out, so coaches selected another five players. This round, the goalies faced the enormous pressure of a “sudden death” shoot-out. This time, if one team made a kick and the next player from the opposing team did not, the game was over.
With fans hootin’ and hollerin’ as if they were clutching a winning lottery ticket, Logan Morris and Kaylin Hinton matched two successful Cowboy kicks to tie the score 2-2.
Another successful Payson boot put the Horns up by one, which meant all the Horns needed for a “W” and the right to advance to a state round game was for goalie Steven Tubbs to block the Cowboys’ next shot attempt.
All evening long, the 6-foot-5-inch Tubbs had been a force to reckon with. He continually used his enormous reach to grab CV shot attempts from up high. Now, with everything on the line, he again swatted down the Cowboys’ final desperation shot attempt, sending the fans into a show of jubilation that would rival New Year’s Eve in Times Square
“Cardiac Kids” one fan yelled as he spilled onto the field.
With the nail-biting victory, the Horns earned the right to travel to Tucson tomorrow, Oct. 27, where they will play No. 4 seeded Alta Vista in a 2 p.m. game at Kino North field.
In other first round state playoff games, Show Low beat Snowflake 3-1, Round Valley slipped past Phoenix Country Day 3-2, and Willcox rolled over Benson 6-1.