Rolla soccer (8-2) hosted Helias for a matchup with major District repercussions on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Rolla and Helias are the top two teams in their District, so the winner basically sealed the top ranking for the District Tournament. Helias came back from a two goal deficit to force overtime, but Jarret Gabriele knocked in a penalty kick in the final minute to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 victory.
Rolla controlled the game early on, scoring the first two goals of the match. Gabriele got Rolla on the board in the 10th minute of the game off an assist by Evan Moore, before Moore scored another goal five minutes later on a header. The second goal came on a pass from Carson Arnold, which was redirected on a header by Gabriele before Moore found the back of the net.
After that, Helias turned up their already aggressive play. The Crusaders are always a physical team, but they started to push and shove even more. Despite the overly aggressive play, the officials neglected to make any calls against Helias, even with several Bulldogs thrown to the ground.
Helias was able to get on the board in the 21st minute when Nick Brandt sent what seemed like a prayer from just past mid-field towards the goal. Drew Blair was playing up in the keeper zone because the ball was so far away and the ball floated over his outreached arms just under the crossbar for a goal. The Crusaders spent the entire game just throwing up long shots and hoping something would fall in, but this was the only such shot that was even close to the net.
Rolla pushed through the physical play from Helias and nearly scored again before the half. The Bulldogs had several opportunities, but their best came on a corner kick in the 32nd minute. Gabe Stanislawski fired a great ball, but Nick Janke's header ricocheted towards the top of the keeper zone. Moore was there to settle the ball and get off a shot, but the box was too congested for the ball to get to the goal.
Halftime came and went with Rolla holding onto a 2-1 lead, but Rolla kept firing in the second half. The Bulldogs had another great opportunity five minutes into the half when Gabriele worked the ball into the corner and crossed the ball into the middle of the keeper zone for Jayson Ross. Ross couldn't quite catch up to the pass, however, and the ball rolled into the opposite corner. Rolla then got a restart in the 60th minute and Arnold served up a perfect ball, but the redirected shot went just wide. The Bulldog offense kept firing when Mohamed Alamaldeim worked his way around several defenders and slipped a pass to Moore, but the shot went high and Rolla was stuck with their 2-1 lead.
As the half continued, Rolla just needed to keep Helias off the board for 10 more minutes to seal the win, but some defensive problems kept that from happening. Jacob Lorts had the ball and just needed to clear it, but instead attempted to cross the ball while clearing in. Helias intercepted the pass and Brandt again found the back of the net to tie the game at two in the 71st minute.
Rolla had one final chance to win the game in regulation when they had a corner kick in the 76th minute, but after the set up from Stanislawski, Janke was shoved on his header attempt and the ball launched over the goal. Regulation ended with a tie at two, so Rolla and Helias were headed into overtime.
The Bulldogs seemed like they were starting to run out of gas in the second half, but they found another gear in overtime. Ross had a strong overtime period and that started in the 85th minute when he had a great scoring opportunity, but the shot just missed over the crossbar. Moore then had a chance to score three minutes later, but a defender got a leg on the ball and his shot ended up over the net. As the clock began to run out, Ross worked his way into the corner of the keeper zone. He tried to work around two defenders, but he was thrown to the ground with 26 seconds left. The official made one of the few calls in Rolla's favor and a penalty was called, setting up a penalty kick attempt.
Gabriele stepped into the box for the PK. He was worn down from the 90 minutes of play where he never subbed out, but he slowly worked his way to the ball. His approach was smooth and he popped the ball up near the top right corner passed the Helias keeper for the game-winning goal. He instantly turned to his teammates and sprinted to midfield in celebration.
"I just wanted to put it away for us," said a tired Gabriele after the game. "I had enough of it. We owned the game, it was time to finish it."
This was a long and very physical game, as games with Helias tend to be. In the end, Rolla just proved they wanted it more in Gabriele's eyes.
"It was really just who wanted it more," said the junior forward. "We came out hard and we won the game because it was our turf. It just came down to (who wanted it more)...We came that far in the beginning and we don't wanna give that up. It was kind of like, if we're gonna get up by that much, we might as well win."
While Gabriele and Ross have done a lot of the scoring this year, Rolla is starting to see some other players step up offensively. Moore came in and played a great game tonight as an outside mid. He scored once and had an assist, but he nearly broke through for a few more. Head coach Mike Howard likes seeing some new faces contributing to the offense.
"Evan has found a home for sure at that outside mid and that's been huge for us," said coach Howard. "He's played great for the last several games."
While Rolla pulled out the win, this was far from a perfect game. Rolla controlled the game offensively, but some defensive miscues opened the door for Helias to work their way back into the game.
"It's nice to score three goals. I'm disappointed we let up two, that's the most we've allowed against anybody this season and really we just made mistakes," said the Rolla head coach head coach. "We talked before the game I said Nick will shoot the ball from anywhere. Drew's at his penalty spot, which I understand because that's probably where he'd be playing against normal people, but we get beat on that long ball and then the ball that we played across the back was really unnecessary. We've just gotta make smarter decisions with the ball than that with 10 minutes left especially."
Despite making some mistakes in regulation, Rolla pushed through to win the overtime period against a good team that had all of the momentum, which coach Howard was happy to see. That being said, Helias is going to be even more determined to get revenge when Districts roll around.
"It's a good win for us, no doubt about it," said Howard. "When we see them again the second time, it's going to be a handful in the District Championship."
Rolla will look to carry that momentum into their home tournament this weekend. They'll play a pair of games against Battle and Ozark on Friday, Sept. 22 before wrapping up the tournament against Southern Boone on Saturday.