It took nearly 90 minutes, but Gig Harbor finally found the goal it had been searching for the last few games.
Tied 0-0 going into the final minute of the double overtime period, Tides junior Ike Northstrom was fouled in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. Facing highly-touted Issaquah goalie Saif Kerawala, a University of Washington commit, junior Tanner Stepp sent the ball in for the game-winning goal. Stepp, who plays against Kerawala in club soccer, and said he knew he would need a good effort to win the game for Gig Harbor.
“I know he’s a great keeper,” Stepp said. “I just tried to fool him a little bit. I opened up my hips and put it the other way. He’s a great keeper. I just set the ball down and knew which was I was going to go before I even placed the ball. I struck it well and it just went in.”
Stepp was all smiles after the victory.
“It feels absolutely fantastic,” the junior said. “We know we can do it. We really believe. Coming off these two losses (at the bi-district tournament), we were fired up and ready to go. Getting the win tonight, that’s awesome. We’re stoked about it.”
In last week’s bi-district match at Mount Tahoma High, Northstrom was the only Tides player who managed to score on his penalty kick, making it tempting for head coach Todd Northstrom to select his son to take the kick. But the coach said he doesn’t like to choose the player who gets fouled, and felt like Stepp was the better option.
“(Stepp) has never missed one before that,” Northstrom said. “His was a confidence thing.”
Stepp’s confidence is likely restored after hitting the shot that propelled the Tides into the final eight teams in the state tournament.
While Northstrom and Stepp’s efforts secured the win for Gig Harbor, it was the defense, highlighted by senior captain and goalie Matt Stephens, who truly won the game for the Tides.
The Gig Harbor defense has now yielded only one goal in team’s last three games, all against state tournament qualifying teams. Stephens came up with big save after big save, including an improbable save in the first overtime period, which prompted Northstrom to yell out to his players, “You need to reward him for that!”
“We’ve got to win,” Stephens said. “It’s do or die right now. This is what we all live for. This is where we come to prove our stuff. This is what we practice for all season. All season leads up to this moment, right now.”
For an offense that has struggled to put the ball in the back of the net the last few games, the game-winning goal was a welcome sight for the captain.
“When that goal went in, there’s just nothing like it,” Stephens said.
During the game, Northstrom offered some motivational words to his goalie.
“I said to him, ‘I feel like tonight, even though he’s going to the University of Washington, you’re the best keeper on this field, with the challenges you’ve got.’”
In a game where Stephens held the Eagles scoreless for nearly 90 minutes, few could argue with that assertion.
Gig Harbor went on to face Kentwood on Saturday in a rematch of the Tides district loss. Kentwood won the game, 2-1, in penalty kicks, knocking Gig Harbor out of the postseason.
Kentwood freshman Mason Rudolph scored in the 60th minute. The Tides won a penalty kick in stoppage time on a hand ball inside the box, and junior Tanner Stepp sent it in for the equalizer.
Kentwood took the shootout, 4-3. Conquerors goalie Admir Kucalovic saved two goals.Jon Manley: 253-358-4151 email@example.com Twitter: @gateway_jon