RIDLEY TWP. — With four goals on the board and less than an hour elapsed Tuesday night, the defenses of Garnet Valley and Ridley didn't have the most auspicious of starts to a pivotal Central League tilt.
Through the final 20 tense minutes of regulation and two grueling periods of extra time, though, they more than made up for it, trading one example of successful desperation defending after another in an end-to-end battle.
In the end, there was no separation on the scoreboard between the Green Raiders and Jaguars in a 2-2 draw, but plenty of outstanding performances to go around.
The offensive outburst intensified in an 11-minute stretch in the second half that started with the host Green Raiders (8-2-1, 4-2-1 Central) trailing 1-0. Andrew Kelly headed home a Romario Elbasani free kick from the edge of the area in the 46th minute, then Tim Rudy got loose down the right wing and squared a ball that John Saunders hit to the back post to wrong-foot Garnet Valley goalkeeper Connor Bradley three minutes later to get Ridley the lead.
It took nine minutes for the Jags to get even, a goal that was a carbon copy of Kelly's tally, with John Schwien providing the cross to the foot of defender Colton Richards.
From there, the physicality in midfield and defense took over and proved impenetrable. It was precisely the kind of game both teams expected.
"They're definitely a tough defense,' Saunders said. "We just kept at it and kept running. Our stamina really contributed through each possession. We're a hard-fought team, but they put up a lot. They were everywhere, but I think we definitely had some chances. We definitely had some chances to capitalize, but we both did our stuff and both got a result.'
"A lot of our game plan was to keep them up, keep the space they had limited because they're pretty quick on the ball,' Richards said. "It was just trying to offside-trap them.'
When the offside trap didn't work for Garnet Valley (6-4-1, 3-3-1), it was Richards and his fellow defenders — Joey Sweeney, Danny Buzza and Mike Miller — making up space in a hurry. Bradley made five saves in the game, including rushing out to deny Saunders one-v-one, despite the Ridley forward appearing to be offsides and having committed a foul.
"You've got to work your butt off to get back,' Richards said, "just give it everything you've got to beat that guy to the ball."
Bradley made a double save in the 63rd, denying a Kelly header on a corner kick, then spilling the rebound only briefly enough for Tim Rudy to hammer it back into his chest.
Bradley's opposite number, Pat O'Neill, was the one who produced the save of the game though, diving at a full stretch in the 60th minute to deny a dipping drive from Schwien that appeared ticketed for the bottom corner.
O'Neill was called upon just once in overtime, his 10th save of the night, but it was Rory Kelly who made the biggest intervention, cutting out a dangerous ball into the box in the second overtime. Along with Tim Furman and Benjamin Kellett and the stout midfield efforts of Rudy and Andrew Kelly, it was enough to seal a point in a seesaw affair.
"It was pretty tough,' Andrew Kelly said. "Our defense has been strong all year. It was an unlucky one on the first with a long shot, but I thought we played well.'
By the end, it seemed a long time since Matt Moore opened the scoring, the freshman poaching the first goal of his career on a looping shot from 40 yards that was thoroughly against the run of play.
"My brother (Shawn) passed it to me, and coach always says play to shoot,' Moore said. "I saw John run up the sideline and I thought, hey we need a goal. So I just shot it, and it just went and went. It went in, and my brother was freaking out, and I had no clue it went in.'
For two teams that didn't given an inch after 100 minutes, the final parity on the scoreboard was a little bit of justice. And it was certainly hard-earned.
"I've never played like this before, and it's my first year,' said the freshman Moore. ".. It's hectic and it's so much faster than I'm used to playing, but it's something I'm getting used to.'