Capping off a strong week for Maple Leaf athletics, both the men’s and women’s soccer teams snatched their first conference win of the year against the University of Saint Francis through last-second heroics — and a touch of drama.

In the women’s away fixture, both teams were scoreless through 85 minutes. Goshen was keeping the pressure on against the St. Francis defense all game but couldn’t find a breakthrough. Then the ball fell to Anita Tavares.

With just over two minutes left in the game, Tavares sprinted down the left side with the ball. As a Cougar defender tapped it away, Tavares chased down the ball, and while spinning to her left, sent a first-touch screamer over the fingers of Cougars keeper Amber Morgan. 

The ball hit the back of the net for the only goal of the game. The Leafs had no trouble closing out the final few minutes, and the Leafs took the defensive battle, 1-0.

“It was a crazy feeling,” Tavares said. “I wasn’t really thinking…I was so happy and relieved when we scored.”

With her third goal this season, Tavares is now tied with Madalyne Swallow and Seja Lang for the team lead. Last season, she put five shots on goal all year — she matched that tally in this game alone.

“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable than I did last year,” Tavares said. “[Thanks to] the team, and the whole environment.” 

Goshen managed to put 11 shots on goal (including Tavares’ five) in 15 attempts for 73.3% — a new season high. Amber Morgan made 10 saves, but the Goshen defense was impenetrable and disallowed St. Francis from creating chances in the final third. Goshen keeper Victoria Naylor only had to make five saves to record a clean sheet in her first conference game after returning from an elbow injury.

The women are now 1-2 in Crossroads League play (4-6-1 overall) and face Bethel University on the road next week, while the men (1-7-3, 1-1-1 CL) play the Pilots at home for Goshen’s homecoming game.

While the women were fighting tooth-and-nail in the match, the men were fighting in a different way. With the knowledge that they could secure their first conference win, the atmosphere was electric before the game even started. When Lucas Bontreger scored just ten minutes in, the student section exploded.

St. Francis tied it up just a few minutes later, though, and the next 60 minutes were a back-and-forth battle. Tensions were running high, with two yellows given by the referee but a good number more argued for by both sides. The benches were chattering back and forth all game, but when the Cougars’ bench players gestured lewdly towards the crowd, the students ramped up their already-feverish chants.

With 5:06 left on the clock, a foul inside the box gave the Leafs a penalty shot. It took the referee a few minutes to settle the Cougars down enough to allow the kick to be taken, but as soon as he did, Bontreger stepped up and promptly clattered the attempt off the post. 

As the Cougars’ Daniel Eleuterio ran towards the sideline and taunted the crowd, he missed a crucial detail: the referee had whistled the ball dead for encroachment. Goshen was given a retake of the penalty.

Bontreger made no mistake on his second attempt, coolly slotting it into the bottom left corner. It was his 35th career goal, and he is now tied for tenth on the GC all-time scoring list, although that likely wasn’t on his mind. As the Leafs celebrated frantically and the Cougars screamed at the officials to no avail, the Cougars’ bench was shown a yellow card. 

Players and coaches continued to scream at each other, the referees and whoever else was unlucky enough to be near the mass pandemonium. By the time the game restarted, nearly ten minutes had passed since the initial penalty call and four yellow cards had been issued.

With the Leafs running down the clock, tension was boiling over as the Cougars were serenaded by a vigorous, if off-key, rendition of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” When the final whistle sounded, and the Leafs had climbed out of their dogpile, the teams lined up for the customary handshake line. It didn’t go as expected…or perhaps it went exactly as expected.

Pushing and shoving developed as both benches sprinted to the center circle. The coaches and the referees — who had already headed off the field — eventually got involved, and Alessandro Bazan of St. Francis was issued a postgame red card for a likely two-game suspension.

The “We Love You Goshen” postgame chant from the fans was, perhaps unsurprisingly, by far the loudest and heartiest serenade of the year.

All the drama, though, could have been avoided completely if the teams had listened to another chant emanating from the student section just ten or fifteen minutes before the fiasco.

“Gimme a C!” “C!” “Gimme an O!” “O!”

And so on and so forth…

“Gimme a G!” “G!”

“What’s that spell?”