NEW PALESTINE — Exhausted and elated, Mt. Vernon head coach Matt Mayhew wiped his faced and smiled.
“I think I have a few more grey hairs today, and I lost my voice,” Mayhew remarked late Wednesday night. “What can I say? When we needed goals, all three of my forwards got one.”
Each goal unfolded at the opportune time, and none were more important than the other as Mt. Vernon survived a thrilling 3-2 overtime win against host New Palestine in the Sectional 23 semifinals.
“We talked about it at each break, believing in what we’ve done all year,” Mayhew said. “It’s something special to see. One of my captains said, ‘let’s leave it all on the field, and give glory to God.’ You hear stuff like that win or lose, and I feel like I’m doing something right with these guys.”
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With their playoff backs against the wall and the Dragons pressing, the Marauders had all the right answers as their 1-0 first-half lead vanished behind a career-best effort from New Palestine’s Mitchell Christopher.
The Dragons’ defender tied the game 1-all late in the first half with a putback shot, marking his first goal of the season.
Christopher’s second goal came off a third straight corner-kick set piece as he headed the ball past Mt. Vernon goalkeeper Josh Powell with 10:45 left in the regulation.
“I just told him, that’s the best game I’ve ever seen him play,” New Palestine head coach Justin Sass said. “What a performance.”
Despite trailing 2-1, the Marauders continued to battle back, posting 12 shots on goal in regulation — eight in the second half — and had a pair of goals waved off before Christopher’s second netter.
The first Mt. Vernon goal by Carson Jones was negated due to an offside call with 22:41 remaining in the second half. The other no-goal was wiped clean due to a foul in the box a minute later.
Mt. Vernonn (13-2, 7-0 HHC), which defeated New Palestine 2-1 during the regular season to clinch the Hoosier Heritage Conference title outright last week, lead 1-0 in the rematch behind a bicycle kick goal from Timmy Clone.
Clone was the hero in the previous match, scoring both goals in the win. His set piece shot off an assist by Jeffrey Boxberger in the playoffs was his 10th goal of the year.
Clone played the ball through to Jones late in regulation to help tie the game up at 2-all. Jones collected the pass and streaked down the pitch for his 17th goal of the year with 6:36 left on the clock.
In overtime, the Marauders continued to pay it forward as Jones assisted Jarret Whitehouse on a one-time goal with only 25 seconds spent off the clock in the first seven-minute overtime period.
The Marauders held on the final 13:35 to win and advance into Saturday’s championship match against HHC foe Greenfield-Central at 7 p.m. to defend their title.
“The defense played great,” Mayhew said. “We still had some trouble marking set pieces, but we’ll figure it out. It was just a great team win against a great team as well.
“Now we have to play Greenfield in finals. Another tough one, it doesn’t get any easier.”
The Marauders had 14 shots on goal and 21 shots, but the Dragons (9-7, 5-2 HHC) weren’t too far behind with 11 shots and eight shots on goal with four.
Adam Hunt collected eight saves in the net for New Palestine and after trailing 3-2 in overtime, the Dragons nearly tied up the game again with multiple opportunities.
“That was a heck of a soccer game. We gave the fans a show,” Sass said. “Had someone told me before the game that there were going to be five goals scored in this game, I would have laughed at them. I thought it was going to come down to one goal. Both teams really showed up to play.”
The Dragons played six games in 10 days leading up the postseason, said Sass, which slowed them a bit, but the effort was there from beginning to end for the HHC runner-ups.
“They gave me everything they had, and I’m extremely grateful and proud,” Sass said. “It was a great soccer game.”