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Party like it's 1985: North Tonawanda stuns Grand Island for NFL title

by yarger
Wed, Oct 16th 2019 10:55 pm
The North Tonawanda girls soccer team poses with the Niagara Frontier League plaque following Wednesday night's victory over Grand Island. The title is the team's first since 1985. (Photo by David Yarger)
The North Tonawanda girls soccer team poses with the Niagara Frontier League plaque following Wednesday night's victory over Grand Island. The title is the team's first since 1985. (Photo by David Yarger)

Jacks win snaps Vikings 85 league match unbeaten streak

By David Yarger

It was a night of upsets at Gene Masters Field on the Grand Island High School campus Wednesday night. In the first Niagara Frontier League boys soccer title matchup, Lewiston-Porter defeated Niagara-Wheatfield. For the girls title, the North Tonawanda Lumberjacks kept the upset specials alive, as they defeated the Grand Island Vikings, 2-1, to win the NFL crown.

The magic number seemed to be 85, as it was the Lumberjacks first NFL title since 1985, and, meanwhile for the Vikings, the loss snapped an 85 league match unbeaten streak.

In the first half, Grand Island had several chances to get on the board, but it was North Tonawanda who came away with an early lead.

The lone goal of the half came from the boot of North Tonawanda senior Macey Gioeli with 23:15 left in the first 40 minutes.

Gioeli took advantage of a rebound off Vikings keeper Lydia Sweeney, which bounced right to the senior’s right foot and into the net for her team-leading 18th goal of the season.

Grand Island answered the goal in the second half, though, as Brooke Amato found sophomore Payton Khadra for her third goal of the season. The answer tied the game at one with a little over 24 minutes left to play.

Further on in the second half, it looked like Grand Island had taken the lead.

Off a free kick, GI’s Mikayla Robinson nailed a shot that went off the top crossbar and hit the ground before being cleared by North Tonawanda.

Vikings players argued that the ball upon touching the ground was across the goal line, which would’ve given GI a 2-1 lead. Upon further discussion amongst the refs, it was deemed no goal.

North Tonawanda hopped on the opportunity and just a minute later, senior Kaia O’Rourke netted her third goal of the season off a rebound to give the Jacks a 2-1 lead with 9:11 remaining.

The Vikings continued to fight through adversity. The team had two opportunities late off a free kick and a corner kick. The free kick was about as close as it could come. The kick by Robinson was headed into the air and off a crossbar right into the crease. The ball was cleared and the refs said the ball went off the field goal post from the football field, meaning the Vikings were awarded a corner kick.

On the corner, the kick sailed off the uprights of the field goal post, giving possession back to NT with around 20 seconds remaining, essentially icing the 2-1 title-clinching victory for the Jacks.

The win for coach Hannah Crouch and O’Rourke was breathtaking after they discovered the program hadn’t won an NFL title since 1985.

“That is crazy. I can’t even (believe it),” O’Rourke said. “I’ve been hyping it up all day that we had this game, that we were going to win, but I did not think that I was going to be the one that scored at all. But it’s crazy and so exciting.”

Crouch added, “It’s unreal. I wasn’t even born in 1985. So it’s super unreal. It’s such a fantastic feeling and I couldn’t ask for a better group of kids. I love these kids like they’re family to me. It’s awesome to do it with this group.”

For Grand Island, a win would’ve clinched a sixth-straight NFL title, but that wasn’t the case Wednesday night. Coach Dave Bowman admitted, it was an odd feeling.

“Yeah, it’s been a while,” Bowman said. “Especially because the girls wanted it, but you look at everyone on both teams and they all wanted it. They (NT) wanted it just as bad as we did and we wanted it, we just aren’t used to being on this end of it. But it doesn’t change the fact that my girls worked their butts off. I think we got a couple bad breaks, a couple bad bounces, a couple things we didn’t necessarily agree with, but that’s the game. Nobody’s coming back on the field to replay it and there’s no instant replay.”

Bowman added that the loss versus NT is a character-building game, as well as a learning experience heading into the Section VI playoffs.

The first time the two teams played, GI was on the winning side, 3-0. Bowman explained that some things went differently the first time the two teams met.

“They played a really good game today,” Bowman said of the Jacks. “They moved the ball, they were aggressive and they have a lot of speed. We didn’t move the ball and in the first half, we didn’t get breaks and bounces. We weren’t possessing the ball as well as we were, and we had a lot of unfortunate breaks and unfortunate things. … There was just a lot of unfortunate circumstances and I think that was the main difference between last time.”

For O’Rourke, she said her game winning goal was a bit of flash.

“She crossed it in and … I thought it was going in from her, but I just kept running just in case and it came out and popped out and I just happened to kick it in. I did not think it was going in. I figured I would just kick it and maybe it will go in, maybe it won’t,” O’Rourke said with a laugh. “It was like one of the best moments ever. I have never beat Grand Island ever since I was in seventh grade. Now I scored the game winning goal for the championship. It’s insane, it’s crazy … I’m shook.”

O’Rourke added that the win will help with the team’s confidence moving forward in sectionals and she said she hopes the team continues to move further into the postseason.

For the Jacks, their record increased to 13-2 with the win, while the Vikings decreased to 13-2-1. Both teams’ first playoff opponent will be determined in the coming days.

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