By Ethan Diamandas
Dario Conte drilled the looping free kick into the dark Ottawa sky. Twice the ball was headed into the air before it settled on the chest of Ravens midfielder Ricky Comba.
In one fluid motion, Carleton’s captain eluded Capers defenders, dropped the ball to his right foot and struck it into the back of the net. Comba raced around the pitch, his arms outstretched, while the home fans at Ravens’ Perch hollered in celebration of the 116th minute goal.
“When (Comba) scored that goal, to be honest with you, I was just thinking, ‘Okay, now we’ve got to defend,” Ravens head coach Kwesi Loney said. “That was the first thing that went through my head, ‘Now we gotta hold it. We gotta hold it.”
Carleton had a one goal lead, yet Cape Breton remained undeterred, sending the ball down the wing and crossing it into a sea of bodies in front of the net. Nervous gasps sounded out from the crowd with each close call – they got especially loud when Ravens defender Tareq Hamad headed the ball off the goal line to save the game.
Through it all, the Ravens held strong until the final whistle. Midfielder Luca Piccioli dropped to his knees and threw his hands in the air as fans stormed the field.
Saturday’s 3-2 extra-time win meant Carleton was headed to the national championship final for the first time since 2002.
“It feels like a dream come true,” said Carleton striker Gabby Bitar, who scored in the 32nd minute. “Ever since the season started, ever since we came to training camp, we knew this was the team’s goal. This was the ultimate goal.”
Once again, Carleton took the difficult route to victory.
The Ravens scored twice in the first half, and their alumni section quite literally set the game’s rhythm. Drumbeats echoed out as Carleton’s cheering section tried to match its efforts from the quarterfinals.
Fans stomped, yelled, heckled opposing players, and waved a red Carleton flag fixed to the end of a hockey stick. For the second game in a row, security confiscated multiple burning flares from the bleachers.
Carleton initially had things locked up, leading by two goals, until the Capers squeaked in a goal in the 88th minute. A scary moment for the Ravens, but not yet a disaster. Disaster would come moments later.
With a corner kick lined up in the Ravens’ end during the fleeting moments of stoppage time, Capers forward Kyle Waters hooked the ball up into the air, off the outstretched hand of keeper Kyle Potter and into the back of the net.
The Ravens were stunned. Minutes ago, they had a finals berth locked up, now those hopes seemed much farther away.
“I’ve always said that (the Capers) are one of the standards in our league,” Loney said. “So, to play them, you have to play 90. In our case, you have to play 120 minutes – they’re never going to go away.”
Waters and his Cape Breton entourage raced over to Ravens’ cheering section, taunting the fans and flapping their arms as if to mock the Ravens’ celebrations.
In an instant, it became a new game; the tying goal was devastating, but, like the victory in the quarterfinals, Carleton persevered.
“We appreciate the test,” Loney said. “We were tested today, and we were happy to see us come through at the end.”
The Ravens won the match but got beat up in a game that saw eight yellow cards handed out – three to Carleton and a whopping five to Cape Breton, including one to its coach.
Ravens rookie phenom Matteo de Brienne left the game with what looked like a shoulder injury but returned late in overtime. Raphael Garcia, Carleton’s U Sports First Team All-Canadian defender, also left the match with an injury and did not return.
Banged up but not broken, the Ravens now have a chance to make club history with what would be their first gold medal victory on Sunday. While Bitar, a four-year veteran of the team, couldn’t predict what might be said in the locker room before his Ravens take the pitch, he has no doubts they’re prepared for the moment.
“Our team is ready to go to work,” he said.
The gold medal showdown between the Ravens and the Montreal Carabins kicks off at 2 p.m.
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