CLARION — The Punxsy boys' soccer team fell one magical moment shy of winning a District IX Class AA Championship in its first-ever appearance in the district's final game of the season.
The Chucks (15-4-1) scored midway through the first half, but as the clock continued to roll, Bradford (14-6) came closer and closer to scoring the equalizer.
After the Owls tied the game with eight minutes remaining in regulation, they scored again with seven minutes left in double overtime to earn the district title Wednesday night at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium, 2-1.
Punxsy was clearly disappointed in the loss, but even the defeat can't take away from the Chucks' finest season by a mile.
After the team earned its first winning season and playoff berth in 2009, it was one goal away from winning the district crown. Talk about improving by leaps and bounds for a team that was lucky to win four or five games a season entering last year.
"All I can reflect on is how well these guys played and how hard they worked and how far they've come," Punxsy head coach Phil Shenkle said. "We've gone past baby steps. We're at the point where we're just tearing up huge tracks of ground as we move forward to where we're hoisting the district championship."
The Chucks scored first, as sophomore Trevor Peace pounded a shot from 20 yards out that soared over the keeper's head with 19:16 left in the first half.
Punxsy's defense played brilliantly during the first 72 minutes of the game, denying Bradford's larger and more skillful players. But the Owls were able to tie the game thanks to an excellent cross by Garrick Anderson, which was headed in by Justin Hart with 7:55 left before the second half ended.
Bradford had 13 shots on goal to Punxsy's four, including seven shots on goal during the second half. Punxsy was desperate to go ahead 2-0 before the Owls could tie it, but the Chucks managed just one shot after Peace's goal.
"In a championship game, trying to hold a lead (for as long as they did), it's one of those things where it's just a matter of time. I thought we did a great job of holding them," Shenkle said. "To have a great cross like that and a goal off the head, there's no mistake there — just a great play."
Punxsy had opportunities during the final eight minutes of the second half and the two overtimes, but never tested Bradford's keeper, who never had to make a save during that span of time.
The Owls found an opening with 7:12 left in 2OT, as Alex McFarlane scored the district-winning goal.
"The ball movement was nice. They put it in a zone that our hustle wasn't able to get to," Shenkle said. "The second one was well-played, kind of ping-ponged around, landed on the right guy's foot, and he put a nice shot on goal. That's how you win games."
Punxsy keeper Daniel Triponey still played well, mounting 11 saves. His best save was a well-struck high shot by Bradford during overtime that he fully-extended for and tipped over the goal for a corner kick.
The loss was Punxsy's first since an Oct. 2 defeat at Elk. All four of the Chucks' defeats this season came in road games or on a neutral field. Also, Wednesday's loss snapped Punxsy's nine-game winning streak.
Though the season is complete, and the Chucks fell short of their ultimate goal, they'll be remembered as the first Punxsy soccer team to get this close. The sky's the limit for Punxsy's future in soccer.
"They went out there and played their guts out. It's something that's going to be bitter — you hate to get that close and not get it — but I'm just so proud of these guys," Shenkle said. "It's a special group of kids. You never like losing. But we were able to gut it out against a very, very skilled team. We got as far as we did on heart and hustle."