It was so close that the Potomac Falls boys' soccer team could sense it. Then, in a matter of seconds, it was gone.
Indeed, the Panthers may never forget what might have been had they not allowed Blacksburg to come back to tie their Virginia AA semifinal game with just seconds remaining. The Panthers would go on to lose, 5-4, on penalty kicks.
The hardest part for the Panthers (22-2-1) may be knowing that they vastly outplayed the Bruins for the majority of the game, including the entire second half.
"Personally, I think we played one of the greatest games of our lives," said senior midfielder Phil Kowalick. "The beginning was a little bumpy, but toward the end of the first half and throughout the second half, we just knocked it around, and we deserved that win. But two of the three attacks they got, they finished them."
The Panthers got on the board early in the game when midfielder Kevin Palensky carried the ball nearly the length of the field and got off a strong shot that was batted just wide by Bruins' goalie Peyton Berkeley. But sophomore standout Ben Biber was waiting for the rebound, and his shot deflected off the post, off a Blacksburg defender and in for the 1-0 lead.
The Bruins answered the early goal in the 12th minute when defender Will Matthews was able to take advantage of a breakdown in the Panthers' defense.
Potomac Falls took the lead on freshman forward Uche Onyeador's 20-yard strike with only 13 minutes to play, but Blacksburg forward Tim Becker was able to head home a rebound past Austin Shangraw with less than 30 seconds to play to send it to overtime.
"Crazy things happen," Potomac Falls Coach Dave Gryder said of the way regulation ended. "That kid was in the right spot at the right time. We played a great game; it was just bad luck."
The loss brings a close to a season in which the Panthers dominated their local competition, winning the Dulles District and Region II titles, and came within a game of reaching the state final. A Dulles District team has not won a state title since Park View in 1992.
"I hope they think that we gave them a great game and a little luck was on their side tonight," Gryder said about Blacksburg, a team that has won seven AA state crowns. "We knew we would have a great team, and we got as close as you could get."
Potomac Falls graduates six seniors, including All-Met Kowalick, but it should be formidable again next season with leading scorers Onyeador and Biber returning.