SMYRNA – To Nolan Constantine, the play unfolded in slow motion.
Charter of Wilmington’s junior midfielder saw Owen Johansson’s 50-yard free kick arcing into the penalty area five minutes into overtime Wednesday night. Constantine headed it into the net, and the Force edged Appoquinimink 2-1 in the semifinals of the DIAA Division I Boys Soccer Tournament at Charles V. Williams Stadium.
“Since it was going far post, I was actually trying to head it back across,” Constantine said. “I saw my teammates running in, so the thought was to go far post. That’s what I did, and it went in.”
The golden goal sent fourth-seeded Charter (14-3) into its first state final against Salesianum at 7 p.m. Saturday on the same field. Top-seeded Appoquinimink battled hard all the way and finished its season at 15-2.
“I was just watching the ball cross the line,” Constantine said. “When it went in, I was just ecstatic. I was so happy.”
The first half was scoreless, but the pace really picked up after halftime. Brian Shannon got Charter on the board in the 47th minute when he settled a bouncing ball and drove it home. The Jaguars tied it five minutes later, as an Appo attacker was taken down in the penalty area and Hadi Basma converted the penalty kick.
Then both goalkeepers made huge saves, as the Jaguars’ Jason Sommer stopped a left-footed blast by the Force’s Kevin Eriksen, and Charter’s Will Connolly deflected a hard shot by Appo’s Travis Romano. The Force’s Zach Bopp hit the crossbar from 25 yards out in the 77th minute, and it remained tied until Constantine made the winning play in OT.
“It was a tight game all night,” Charter coach Jon Gillespie said. “The opportunity was there, and it went in. Both teams played extremely well tonight, and we just got that opportunity and put it home.”
Salesianum 1, Cape Henlopen 0
The third time was a charm for Salesianum’s Gavin Ford, who finally got a shot past Cape Henlopen goalkeeper Brent Hochrein nine minutes into the first overtime to send the Sals into the final.
Second-seeded Salesianum (13-3-1) will play for its sixth consecutive state title on Saturday, a feat that would match St. Mark’s six-year championship run from 1996-2001. The Sals – ranked 20th nationally in the latest USA Today/National Soccer Coaches Association poll – have won 10 of the last 11 state crowns.
But the third-seeded Vikings (15-2) did all they could to end the streak. Both teams had a good chance in the first half, as Sallies’ Bryce Wallace hit the post in the third minute and Cape’s Drew Mulcahy whistled a 30-yard free kick over the crossbar in the 11th minute.
Hochrein (six saves) was phenomenal, firing his right hand out to deflect Ford’s point-blank blast in the 63rd minute, and making another brilliant save on the Sals’ sophomore attacker two minutes into overtime. But seven minutes later, freshman Thomas McGrail sent a free kick in to Ford and he scored the game’s only goal.
“Throughout the game, Cape’s keeper really made a couple of great saves,” Ford said. “On the last one, the ball just went through and I just tried to fire it on goal. Luckily, he didn’t save that one.”
The Vikings had their opportunities in the second half. Sals goalkeeper Gavin Campbell deflected Jack Ashby’s left-footed blast in the 41st minute, and Ashby sent a forceful header just wide in the 67th minute.
“We were fearful that they would take us out of our style, our system, which they did a good job of,” Sallies coach Scott Mosier said of Cape. “I thought late, our fitness level was still high. We’re deep, so we could rotate players in, and I think at the end of the day, that was probably the difference in the two teams.”
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ