Zach Conard, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - The UBC Thunderbirds defeated the Trinity Western Spartans 3-2 in a thrilling double-overtime Canada West gold-medal match Saturday night at Thunderbird Stadium.
It was a game of raw emotion and physical battles as each team fought for the right to be crowned Canada West Champion. The clash between the teams led to a dramatic finish that saw the Thunderbirds pull off a comeback after being down two goals. It was Connor Guilherme's game-winning header in the 95th minute that captured the title of champion for the Thunderbirds and sent the team to the national championship tournament.
"I kept shouting, one goal changes it, one goal changes it. I've seen a lot in this game and it looked pretty dire two-nil down," UBC Head coach Mike Mosher said. "We've come back from deficits quite a few times this year and we mentioned that to the group at halftime. It was good that we scored early enough to have enough time to get pressure. We felt if we went to extra time it favored us because they had gone to extra time the day before."
TWU pushed forward early on as UBC attempted to figure them out, but that changed quickly as the T-Birds then began to attack. As the game continued to play on, each team looked like they could take a lead at any moment.
The Spartans jumped ahead first before the Thunderbirds came roaring back.
Trinity Western used their last chance of the half to strike first. Leighton Johnson's corner kick found its way to Vito Poletto who took no time in firing a shot that deflected off UBC players and past Chad Bush for the first goal of the game. TWU went ahead 1-0 in the 45th minute.
Entering the second half with the lead, the Spartans looked to play a much more defensive game, but the offence came alive yet again.
he Spartans shored up their lead with a second goal in the 59th minute. This time, Johnson was the one scoring as he placed the ball past Bush, off the inside of the post and into the net. Poletto got the assist as Trinity Western took a 2-0 lead.
It's often said a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer.
With their backs against the wall, the Thunderbirds pushed forward. Inside the Spartans box, Victory Shumbusho let off a shot that found its way past Colyn to cut the lead by one. Kyle Sohi was awarded the assist as the score sat 2-1 in the 69th minute.
The T-Birds weren't done with the comeback. At the 80-minute mark, Kerman Pannu came up the left side and placed a perfect cross into the box, finding the right boot of a wide open Guilherme. The center back smashed the ball in for the equalizer and UBC had the game tied up at 2-2.
Both teams pressed on to find a game winner, but the champion wouldn't be determined until extra time.
Guilherme continued to make his presence felt in this final. In the 97th minute, the defender rose above the Spartans' defence to get his head on a Verhoven corner kick. Guiding the ball down and into the bottom left of the net, Guilherme had scored his second of the night and most importantly the game winner, giving UBC the 3-2 lead.
"I'm so happy for that player," Mosher said of Guilherme. "The injuries that kid has suffered, in all my years he's maybe the hardest working kid I've ever had, and I couldn't be happier to see that kid get rewarded with all-star recognition, two goals tonight, a championship, if anybody deserves it, he does."
Bush's heroic save in the 103rd minute off a shot by Caleb Johnson may have very well secured the win for UBC as it was the Spartans last decent chance to equalize.
"It's gonna be a tough tournament. Every year, the tournament gets tougher and tougher," Mosher said of the national championship. "There will be no easy games."
The Thunderbirds will begin their quest for a U SPORTS national championship when they begin tournament play next week in Kamloops.
The 2017 season concludes for the Spartans, who finished 8-4-4 in the regular season before defeating Calgary and defending national champions Alberta in the playoffs to reach Saturday's Canada West Final. Bench boss Mike Shearon was named the Canada West Coach of the Year on Thursday.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds