Men’s soccer surges late to eliminate Guelph

Ben Clifford knew his time was running out.

The Golden Hawks’ men’s soccer team had mere seconds remaining until their 2010-11 campaign would come to a sputtering halt at the hands of the Guelph Gryphons, who earlier, were in their own race against the clock, claiming a playoff spot on the last day of the regular

Guelph drew Laurier, and the fifth-year was drawing his last gasps of air in a purple and gold uniform, playing the majority of the 90 minutes afforded to his team to attempt an equalizer to knot the score at ones.

But it was the 89th minute in a 2-1 extra time victory over Guelph that seemed to arrest the clock, as well as Clifford’s impending swan song as a Golden Hawk.

Clifford fired the ball behind Gryphons’ keeper Chad Paparoni, capitalizing on a throw in, elating a crowd more suited to the library, than a sporting event.

The fifth-year captain gave them something to cheer about.

Perhaps the prospect of never again throwing the jersey over his back pre-occupied Clifford, but despite the striker’s late game heroics, coach Mario Halapir found much to be desired in the captain.

“He had a terrible game today,” Halapir smiled. “But I’m really ecstatic for Ben. I don’t think there was anybody else that wanted to score more.”

Clifford’s tally served up the opportunity in overtime for Spencer Cawker to again prove his heroic mettle when the pressure’s on as he struck in the 111th minute of overtime to seal the Gryphons’ fate and vault Laurier to the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarterfinals at York
University to play the Lions on Saturday at 2:15pm.

“It’s one of them,” Cawker replied when prompted if his overtime heroics had just provided him with his biggest goal as a Golden Hawk. “A couple years ago, I scored a similar goal,” said a coy Cawker, alluding to, but never referencing his monumental 2008-09 OUA Finals-winning overtime goal that gave the Hawks their fourth OUA title in school history.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Cawker. “It’s still just as special, scoring in overtime, especially after the excitement that the first goal that Ben scored had, with a couple of minutes left.”

Cawker galloped down left wing and with a step on his defender, blasted a top-corner cannon over Paparoni.

“[The play originated from] Chris Walker,” said Cawker. “He’s got a powerful throw; it’s like a corner kick. I saw the ball bounce and I figured I had a half-step on the defender and I didn’t want to waste that and pass it off… I figured I’d take the shot.”

Guelph maintained possession for the majority of regulation, and the Hawks only woke up around the 80th minute and onward; a trend that won’t work against York (who the Hawks lost 2-0, and tied 0-0 this season) if the Hawks want to find themselves in the semi-finals.

“We broke down many times,” said Halapir. “But we stayed and we battled all the way ‘till the end and that’s something we didn’t do a lot this year. We didn’t give up.”

“It shouldn’t have to wait to that point,” said Cawker. “But regardless, we knew if in the last 10 minutes we didn’t score, there’d be no practice tomorrow, no game on Saturday.”

“It’s down to one game,” said Halapir. “We don’t fear anybody in this league. In the past I couldn’t say that. With all the challenges and injuries we’ve had going into this game today, you’ve got to be proud for the boys with the way they competed.”

And within all the overtime drama, Clifford has lived to die another day.

“He gives heart,” said the coach. “He always gives everything he has… As far as effort goes over the last five years, I haven’t had a player come close to him.”

“He’s been the hardest worker all year,” echoed Cawker. “To see it pay off for him; no one is more deserving of that goal.”