Elon University men’s soccer head coach Darren Powell could barely watch. As senior defenseman Nick Butterly walked toward the penalty spot, Powell paced up and down the sideline muttering encouragement as his bench players stood a few feet away, arms around eachother’s shoulders.
“I just wanted to be part of the action,” Powell said. “I was (pacing) to keep myself loose.”
The Phoenix and Appalachian State University were tied at 1 in their Southern Conference quarterfinal matchup. Neither team was able to score in either of the two overtime periods, forcing the game into a penalty kick shootout.
The shootout began with both teams making seven of their first eight from the penalty area. Then, on the Mountaineer’s eighth attempt, Phoenix junior goalkeeper Nathan Dean left dove to his left and stopped the shot of Appalachian State forward Stephen Chapman, giving Butterly a chance to end the game at that moment with a goal.
“He’s a captain. He’s a senior. He’s a veteran,” Powell said. “He’s walking to the spot with a chance for his team to advance. You’ve got to have confidence in Nick in that situation.”
Butterly, meanwhile, was trying to keep himself composed as he walked toward the box.
“I was just trying to stay calm,” Butterly said. “I knew I had the opportunity to put the winner in and I was trying to take my time. We’ve practiced penalties all year, so I was just trying to get my technique right.”
He did, slotting the ball to the left of Mountaineer senior goalkeeper Danny Free and giving the Phoenix an 8-7 shootout victory. From there, it was pure euphoria.
“I really didn’t know what to do once I made the shot,” Butterly said. “I turned around and I’m not really sure what my celebration was but my shirt ended up off and I ended up getting tackled.”
The Phoenix (14-4-1) had dominated both halves of regulation, holding a 25-11 advantage in shots and a 9-1 advantage in corner kicks. They had plenty of looks at the Appalachian State goal despite the visiting team having most of their numbers behind the ball. None, however, resulted in the goal the Phoenix was looking for.
Despite putting relentless pressure on the Mountaineer’s back line, it was the visitors who struck first on a loose ball in the 74th minute that fell to the foot of sophomore forward Trey Hemphill. Hemphill beat Dean to his right from 20 yards out to give his team a 1-0 lead.
“The ball was scrambling around the edge of our box,” Dean said. “They had a very small number of shots during the game but that one happened to go right in the corner. It happens sometimes.”
The Phoenix responded, as they did in their last regular season game against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to tie the game in the closing minutes on a scrum in the Mountaineer box that ended up on the foot of senior defender Nathan Diehl off a rebound. Diehl finished from in close to knot the game at 1.
The Phoenix’s comeback was, in Butterly’s eyes, an indication of the team’s unbreakable resolve.
“It shows what kind of character we have,” Butterly said. “Some teams would’ve turned over and died at that moment but our team has done it all year. No matter how much time is left we’re going to give it our all.”
The Phoenix will play Georgia Southern University, a 1-0 victor over UNCG in Greensboro, on Friday, Nov.15th. It's game Powell knows will be difficult against a team more than capable of upsetting the tournament’s higher seeded teams, as evidenced by their win over the Spartans.
“We’ll take the evening (to celebrate),” Powell said. “And then we’ll prepare the team and put the plan together to play Georgia Southern next Friday.”