Castleton moves onto NAC Championship

All 350 fans fell silent, and the sound of a pin drop could be heard at Spartan Stadium Sunday, Nov. 1. Castleton State College men’s soccer goalkeeper, Mike Anthony, stood ten yards away from Johnson State’s Ryan Joy. Perfectly splitting the two were a soccer ball and a trip to the North Atlantic Conference finals.The shot. The diving save! The crowd erupts!

Anthony sprinted the ball to his fellow Spartans and they celebrated the win, which took two halves, two golden-goal overtimes and four sets of penalty kicks. Technically, the game went down as a 2-2 tie, but Castleton will advance, taking a 4-2 advantage in the penalty kicks.

The road to the Spartans’ third straight NAC final wasn’t easy.

“I give [Johnson] a lot of credit,” said coach John Werner, “They did what they needed to do. I give [Johnson Coaches] Brian [Buczek] and Ray [Campanile] credit; they played defensively and hoped for the break.”

Johnson’s Christopher Keefer got the scoring started when he took hold of a loose ball and slid it past an advancing Anthony in the 32nd minute of the first half. Castleton had spent nearly the entire half in the offensive side of the field, launching 24 shots with nine hitting their target. Johnson, though, held a 1-0 lead at halftime.

“Our message at the half was ‘Don’t panic, guys, keep playing, keep doing it,’ and the guys did,” Werner said.

The defensive style from Johnson also took its toll on the Castleton keeper.

“The type of game is probably the biggest mental challenge for a keeper just because you don’t see the ball regularly,” said Anthony. “If you fall asleep for a second, they can get a counter, and it’s in the back of your net and you’re fighting from behind-kind of like today.”

Castleton continued its assault on the Johnson goal and leveled the score at 1-1 just five minutes into the second half. Johnson took the lead again on a corner kick from Keefer to Ryan Demars in the 17th minute of the second half. That lead would continue for another eleven minutes.

Those supporting the green and white would not be disappointed, though, as Castleton’s Billy Lund crossed the ball from 35 yards out, putting it right at the head of Greg Klopfer on Johnson’s doorstep. He leveled the game at 2-2 in the 28th minute.

After 20 minutes of scoreless overtime soccer, the match went into penalty kick format.

The fans migrated to the south end of the stadium to watch the penalty kicks and sing the international soccer anthem, “Ole, Ole.”

Josh Costa, Corey Robbins, Greg Klopfer and Jon Vogt scored on each of their chances. Johnson’s first and third shooters, Noor Bulle and Victor Abass, scored, but Chad Keonig was stopped by Anthony, leaving it up to Joy, facing a 3-1 shootout deficit, to keep the Badgers alive.

Anthony gave the silent crowd everything they were praying for with his diving save.

“What did I think of Mike’s save?” asked Nick Belizzi, laughing. “It was amazing, he’s a monkey. The stuff he does is inhuman.”

Bellizzi is excited to be in the NAC championship, yet again, for his senior year.

“It’s pretty special considering it’s my fourth and last year. So it means a little bit more, but I want to win it just as much as I did any other year,” Bellizzi said.

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