With their team up 4-1 with 15 minutes to play in Tuesday night’s Virginia AAA state quarterfinal against Forest Park, Mount Vernon goalkeeper Lucas Belanger and the Majors nearly let it all slip away. The Bruins rallied with three goals in about 12 minutes, two of which came from senior Andrew Jones, and Belanger and his club had to suffer the consequences to the tune of four grueling overtimes.
But Belanger, somehow, found a way to weather through the extra time. The American University recruit extended his 6-foot-3 frame to make save after save in the four overtimes. Then he got his second shot at Jones.
Belanger was sensational when he had to be Tuesday, coming up with a key save in penalty kicks and the Majors held on for a 4-2 penalty kick win over Forest Park in a wild, emotional state quarterfinal match in Woodbridge.
Mount Vernon (11-8-2) advances to Friday night’s state semifinal against Midlothian.
“Momentum in a game is everything. You know, when they knock in three in a row and we go into overtime, it’s all with them,” Belanger said. “We had to move forward, and keep playing our game.”
After Belanger had repelled several scoring opportunities by the Majors in overtime, he made the key play of the night in penalty kicks against Jones — who had tied the game at 4 with about two minutes remaining in regulation by beating Belanger low and to the right. But with Forest Park (14-3-2) trailing 3-2 in penalties and Jones trying to tie, Belanger telegraphed the approach perfectly, and extended to his right side to bat the ball into the air. A moment later, Mount Vernon senior Erik Rodriguez sealed the win with his penalty kick goal.
“It’s all in the eyes,” Belanger said of reading Jones’s kick. “You gotta go with your gut feeling.”
Mount Vernon opened the second half with two goals in two minutes to push the score to 3-1, and junior midfielder Emmanuel Nolasco made it 4-1, 15 minutes later, after blooping in a goal from about 15 feet away. But behind the relentless Jones, who finished his season with a school-record 27 goals, the Bruins rallied with three goals in 12 minutes.
“I don’t know what happened. Our midfield just broke down,” Mount Vernon Coach Anthony Garza said. “We just wore ourselves out.”
Belanger was the difference late, which has become a trend in the postseason. Belanger didn’t play with the school as a junior, and he sat out two-thirds of this season to play for McLean Youth Soccer academy. But he left the team late this spring, and rejoined Mount Vernon with only a few games left in the regular season, forced by Garza to split time in the net and earn a spot on the team. Tuesday’s performance was just the latest proof that Belanger has been a catalyst for Mount Vernon’s postseason run.
“I had to earn my spot. I knew that going in,” Belanger said. “I thought I earned my spot back. I really had to work for it.”
In the AA state quarterfinals, the Falcons took an early 1-0 lead and added two insurance scores in the second half to coast to a 3-0 lead over Culpeper in Ashburn.
Briar Woods (14-5-1) got its first goal of the match 15 minutes in, when David Etter netted a goal near the back-post off a cross — and the Falcons took control midway through the second half when Alec Keller converted a header off a throw in. Senior Jimmy Grace, who scored the go-ahead goal in a 2-1 win over rival Tuscarora (Va.) in the AA Region II final last Friday, added two assists for the Falcons.
Briar Woods will meet E.C. Glass in Friday morning’s state semifinal in Radford.
“It’s a first time experience for us,” Briar Woods Coach Francois Bernard said. “Our team is very focused. I like our energy right now.”
Tuscarora (Va.), which suffered its first loss of the season against Briar Woods in the AA Region II final last week, advanced to Friday’s state semifinal in Radford with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Lafayette in Williamsburg on Tuesday night.
The Huskies will meet Blacksburg at noon in Friday’s state semifinal.
Freshman Diego Rodriguez scored the first goal of the game, and the Huskies (21-1-2) controlled the run of play despite being tied 1-1 against Lafayette for most of the second half. Angel Ceron-Garcia gave Tuscarora the go-ahead goal with just three minutes to play, sending home the winner off an assist from Sergio Resendiz. It was the 23rd goal of the year for Ceron-Garcia, and the 10th assist for Resendiz.