Ninety minutes of regulation was not enough. Nor were two 10-minute sudden death overtime periods.
On a chilly autumn night on the South Field at Lehman College, the Lightning men’s soccer team was locked in a 3-3 tie with Hunter College in a City University of New York Athletic Conference quarterfinal match. In a win-or-go-home game, the Lightning had already rallied from an early 2-0 deficit and a late 3-2 hole in regulation to force the extra sessions.
Clearly, if the Lightning was going to go down and see an end to their two-year reign as CUNYAC champions, they were going to go down swinging.
With the game forced into penalty kicks to decide the outcome, and with Lehman holding a slim 4-3 advantage after four rounds, Lightning junior Marcus Folks delivered the game-winner when he found the back of the net in the fifth and final round as Lehman advanced to the semifinals with a 5-3 victory in penalty kicks.
“They just showed spirit, and it’s something I knew they had in them and I’ve been waiting for them to show it all year,” a relieved Lehman head coach Toma Gojcevic said after the game. “And now honestly, what a perfect time to do it. This was a great way to begin the playoffs.”
Early on, it didn’t look like it would be all that great a night for Lehman as it fell into a 2-0 hole after goals by Hunter’s Adam Pine and Blaise Enama in the first 25 minutes.
But Lehman started to show some signs of life in the second half when freshman midfielder Mubarack Ouro scored to pull Lehman within a goal in the 57th minute. With their season on the line, the Lightning kept the pressure on Hunter, and it paid off when Omar Moro scored off an assist from Abdou Tchakoura in the 76th minute to knot the game at 2.
“We went down, 2-0, and we just kept telling the boys to keep pushing,” Gojcevic said. “It will come. Just keep pushing.”
But things took a dramatic turn south for the Lightning when Hunter was awarded a penalty kick in the 82nd minute, and the Hawks’ Michael Merlo converted the kick for a 3-2 Hunter lead with eight minutes remaining.
“That was terribly deflating,” Gojcevic said.
But not for long. Two minutes later, Moro came through again when he netted his second goal of the game to tie the game at 3 and set up the dramatic finish.
“Honestly, I thought in the second half we played really, really well,” Gojcevic said. “We got a goal (by Ouro) and then Omar scored the second goal, and you could see all of a sudden we got the confidence.”
The victory moved the third-seeded Lightning into the semifinals, where they were scheduled to face second-seeded Baruch on Tuesday. But there was a time in the first half against Hunter when Lehman junior goalkeeper Chris Mulholland thought the Lightning’s season might be over.
“I knew we had it in us, but I wasn’t sure if it would come out tonight,” said Mulholland, whose key save on a shot by Hunter’s Nikola Ristovic in the third round of penalty kicks helped set up the win. “That late penalty (which gave Hunter a 3- 2 lead) made me nervous. And when they scored, I thought it was over.”
It wasn’t until Moro’s second goal tied the game at 3 that Mulholland felt the Lightning would be moving on to the semifinals. It was the moment when the Lightning went from deflated to elated.
“When we tied it, at that point it just felt like fate,” Mulholland said. “We just kept coming back and coming back and coming back. It was a great feeling when Marcus scored that final penalty and we all got to celebrate.”
For Moro, the senior who had the two goals during regulation and another in the third round of penalty kicks, it was all about simply wanting to extend his career for at least another game.
“This was a knockout game,” said Moro, who was playing the final home game of his career. “So we came out wanting to be able to come back to practice. And in order to come back for practice we had to win this game.”