After a scoreless 80-minutes of regulation and four 10-minute sudden victory overtime periods, the Sikeston Bulldogs netted four penalty kick goals to two for Notre Dame in a shootout to capture the district title on Thursday.
"It was a sweet win," said Sikeston coach Derrick Long. "I don't think anybody's going to take us for granted anymore, especially when it comes to playoff time. It seems like we pick it up a notch. I wish we could bottle it and use it all season, but we're happy with the way it's going."
The 1-0 victory assured Sikeston of its second straight district title, both final wins over Notre Dame.
Long, who has led both district champion teams, the only two in the 14-year history of the Sikeston soccer program, spoke graciously of oft-crowned district champion Notre Dame, currently ranked fifth in the latest state soccer poll.
"We tip our hats to them," he said. "It's a class program here at Notre Dame and they played their hearts out."
Notre Dame's season ends at 17-4-3 while Sikeston, improving to 13-10, awaits the winner of District 2 for a quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Anheuser-Busch Center in Fenton.
In the shootout format, five players selected from each team get one penalty shot attempt each at a tended goal.
The first four Sikeston kickers, Scott Gardner, Andrew Box, Chris Carnell and Blake Taylor, rifled shots past Notre Dame goalie Nathan Kolda, who set a team record with 17 shutouts, while Sikeston goalkeeper Scott Droddy successfully stopped two of Notre Dame's first four shots to record his eighth shutout and clinch the win.
"This is the second time I've done this and it's real nervewracking," said the sophomore Droddy, "but after I made that first stop, I was like 'hey, I can make it.'"
Notre Dame coach Brad Wittenborn, no fan of the shootout, said, "I don't care if we win on penalty kicks. It's a terrible way to end a game. I don't think anybody likes penalty kicks to decide a game because it doesn't really show who has the better team.
"The goalie is forced to guess and the Sikeston goalie did a nice job. He guessed right on a couple of kicks."
Wittenborn wasn't alone in his dislike of the shootout.
Said Long, "I hate ending games like that and I'm sure the other coaches do, too. Everybody plays so hard and then it comes down to a keeper making a save, but that's the rules and we liked it tonight."
Although it was Sikeston's first shootout of the season, Long had his team well prepared.
"We've been working on these (penalty kicks) the last five practices," he said. "You just never know."
During the 120 minutes of scrimmage, however, it was stellar play by the Sikeston defense that kept the Bulldogs in the game.
"We had a lot of chances," said Wittenborn, "but Sikeston held together."
Outshot 28-13, Sikeston defenders made play after play to keep the hometeam Bulldogs at bay.
None bigger than two huge plays by sweeper Adam Gillean, who made two diving, score-saving stops of Notre Dame shots on goal.
Recalled Gillean, "The stop on the header--I knew Droddy couldn't get to it, so I knew I had to give it all I had to get to it. I'm the last man back and if it gets behind me, it's a deer in the headlights for Droddy. I didn't even know where I was at, on the second one. I was so pumped, I didn't know what was going on."
Other key Sikeston defensive performances were turned in by stopper Ryan Beaird who also had a score-saving stop in the third OT, midfielder Hunter Dillender who was responsible for containing one of Notre Dame's leading scoring threats Frankie Ellis on the wing and defender Jacob Owens, recently returned following a fractured foot in the third game, who mixed it up with several clean tackles.
Pressured the whole game, the entire defense was clearly Sikeston's Most Valuable Players.
"Unbelievable," said Gillean. "Nobody gave up throughout the whole game. It was just heart, heart, heart."
Said Long, "We play kind of a warrior-style. I told 'em it's a battlefield out there and one team's going to die and one team is going to be victorious and it's up to you if you want to die tonight. They didn't want to die. They found something inside to keep fighting."
Sikeston picked a great time to break a two-game losing streak, in which they were shut out 5-0 and 3-0, to Notre Dame.
"The difference," said Wittenborn, "was the ball didn't go in for us this time."