Evans, Ga. – It took 110 minutes and 18 penalty kicks, but the Peach Belt Conference Men's Soccer Tournament trophy is making a long-awaited return to Greenwood.
The No. 23-ranked and top-seeded Lander Bearcats outlasted third-seeded North Georgia 9-8 in PKs after playing to a 1-1 draw through regulation and two overtime periods to capture the program's fifth tournament championship and first since 2009.
"I'm really proud of my team," said head coach Lee Squires. "Our mantra all year has been 'find a way' and we did that tonight. We had to score nine [penalty kicks] to win it, which is a credit to North Georgia, but our boys did what they needed to do."
After battling to a scoreless draw at halftime, the Bearcats (12-3-2) took their first lead in the 70th minute. PBC co-Freshman of the Year Thibault Chretien made a run down the left side of the box and crossed a ball that ricocheted off the crossbar and landed at the feet of Jamie Lunn. The senior then squeezed a shot inside the left post that Nighthawk goalkeeper Matt Sharman deflected back out of the goal. The shot was ruled a goal on the field and confirmed after a video review, putting Lander ahead 1-0.
North Georgia (10-7-1) would answer, however, at the 86:36 mark. Daniel Bennett drove inside the Bearcat box and his shot attempt deflected off Lander's George Knight to even the score at 1-1. Neither team would manage a goal in the final minutes of regulation and, after a pair of scoreless overtime periods, the title match moved to penalty kicks.
Lander outshot the Nighthawks 20-16, while corner kicks were even at nine. Sharman tallied 11 saves for North Georgia and Dean Cowdroy made eight stops for the Bearcats before being replaced following the second overtime period.
Both teams netted their first five penalty kicks to force sudden victory. Each squad converted on its next three shots and Chretien's successful attempt gave the Bearcats a 9-8 lead. Facing Lander goalkeeper Aleksander Holboe and needing a goal to extend the match, North Georgia's Eren Ozar had his shot bounce off the crossbar, ending the longest PK session in PBC Tournament history and giving the Bearcats the crown in their third consecutive appearance in the PBC Tournament Championship.
Lander will now await the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, Nov. 6, at 6:30 p.m. The Bearcats earned the PBC's automatic bid with their win on Sunday. Lander will be returning to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season.