By: Daniel Stickradt
BOYS SOCCER: Troy Athens wins re-do with Dakota to retain regional title
BY DAN STICKRADT
TROY — Troy Athens is a regional champion…again.
And the Red Hawks had to utilize the oddest flair for the dramatic tactic to claim the crown.
After having to come back on Tuesday some four days after originally defeating Macomb Dakota on Friday, the Red Hawks edged the Cougars 5-4 in a penalty kick shootout Tuesday to officially wrap up the regional crown.
The MHSAA learned on Saturday that game officials had issued a misapplication of a rule during the shootout, charging that Dakota had shot its penalty kicks out of order and took one of its penalties away.
There is no such rule.
Forced back onto the pitch Tuesday with the fourth shooter, Athens converted its last two penalty kicks with the Red Hawks’ senior goalkeeper Mason Maziasz stopping Dakota’s fifth shooter to his right side to win the shootout 5-4 and the contest 3-2.
Sixth-ranked Athens, the highest ranked team still remaining in the Division 1 state tournament, will play in the state semifinals for the first time since 1998, the last year the Red Hawks won a regional title. Athens will take on fellow OAA Red Division foe Rochester at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Troy High School.
“I’m super proud of our kids for being able to deal with this for four days and being able to remain mentally strong. And hats off to the Dakota kids for being able to deal with this for four days and being mentally strong,” offered Athens coach Todd Heugh. “That’s a lot of pressure for a 17-year-old kid to deal with for four days. But our team has been hit with a lot of adversity all year long — and we continue to come through it. I’m so proud of our kids.”
Dakota bows out of the state tournament with its best season in the school’s 21-year history.
“This was so emotional,” said Dakota coach Stefano Moraccini. “The emotions were so high Friday, then they told us that we lost (on the rule) and then they were so low. Then they came back to us Saturday (night) and said that we would have a chance to do this again and we were high (emotionally) again. We handled it as best as we could. I had one of the kids come up to me to and ask how they should warm up. I told him that I really didn’t know because this has never happened before. We had to wait four days for this. And knowing that we could actually win or lose again…That is a ton of pressure for high school kids.”
Going back to the point of error by game officials, the shootout resumed tied 3-3. Mark Iskandar (fourth) and Shamik Patel (fifth) converted their PKs for Athens, while Austin Nowak (fourth) made his shot for the penalty.
That left the door open for Maziasz, who came through in the clutch with the game-winning save. Patel was credited with the game-winner in the tie-breaking shootout.
“I have confidence in all three of those kids,” smiled Heugh, whose program recorded its 10th regional title in its storied 36-year history. “I really did. We’ve always kind of said that Mason’s got one save in him, and he didn’t have one the other night. The crossbar did it. I tried not to talk to either of our shooters or our goalkeeper about what they had to do. I just knew that they could do it.”
Athens, which has yielded just 12 goals in 24 games this season — a stellar 0.50 team goals-against average — engaged in an all-out war with Dakota and fought tooth-and-nail to a 2-2 draw through 80 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods.
Patel converted a penalty kick in the 21st minute to stake Athens to a 1-0 lead.
Justin Shadowski tied the game in the 36th minute for Dakota, only to see Athens regain the lead with 3:24 left in the first half with an unassisted goal from Greyson Maziasz.
Dakota netted the game-tying goal with 17:19 remaining in regulation on a tally by Brendan Petz.
The Cougars finished 14-5-3 and played in its first regional final.
“We had an amazing season and no one can take that away from them,” added Moraccini. “They (ventured further than any other team we had. They played in the MAC Red (Division) for the first time and played a tougher scheduleIt all started with this group of seniors that helped carry us to another level this year.”