Battle with Griffins ends Cougars season in heartbreaking loss

Photo: Don Volkander
Photo: Don Volkander

EDMONTON – Brittany Costa out-turned her boot and delivered a strike to the bottom right corner on the decisive penalty kick to give the MacEwan Griffins a 3-2 win over the Mount Royal Cougars in an epic marathon playoff opener at Foote Field on Friday.

Tied 1-1 after regulation and 2-2 after two overtime periods, the dramatic buildup to the PK winner included saves by both goalkeepers, but when Mount Royal's fifth shooter Erin Holt hit the crossbar, it set the stage for Costa's heroics.

The rookie knew exactly what she was going to do.

"It was very nerve-wracking, though," said the Delta, B.C. midfielder, who was mobbed by teammates after finding the twine. "It just felt real, like it really happened. I had something I needed to do and I completed it."

Costa's tally kept MacEwan's playoff drive alive, sending them into a one-game showdown against the Alberta Pandas on Sunday (2 p.m., Foote Field) with the winner advancing to the Canada West Final Four. The Griffins beat the Pandas 1-0 in the only match between the teams earlier this season after none other than Costa scored the winner.

"It's awesome," said Griffins head coach Dean Cordeiro on getting to meet Alberta again. "I think this facility here is going to be jam-packed. They're a little bit rested, so we're going to have to be a bit strategic in terms of that. They'll have fresher legs, but this group has shown time and time again that the bigger the stage the more they're ready to perform. I think it will be no different on Sunday. It's going to be an epic game."

That's saying something because the game they just played could also be described as epic.

While the Griffins dominated the wild Friday afternoon affair from start to finish, outshooting the Cougars 28-11 (and 12-4 in shots on goal), they just couldn't find a way to put them away.

Things came easily at first. MacEwan opened the scoring in the 10th minute when Meagan Lemoine's initial shot was blocked before Jamie Erickson potted the rebound.

Suekiana Choucair then hit a crossbar off a dangerous free kick in the 14th minute from the top right corner of the box.

But the Cougars, on their heels for the majority of the half, found a way to equalize just before half-time. Jullien Ramirez found an open lane down the right side and sent a great cross into the box where Holt blasted it low inside the left post.

MRU built off that momentum to open the second half and had several promising runs in the attacking third, including a chance that skipped over the boot of Janai Martens in tight in the 58th minute.

MacEwan had two great late chances to end it when Costa sent a 30-yard offering just over the bar in the 65th and Choucair just missed wide left in the 74th and over the bar in the 89th.

That set up two 15-minute halves of overtime.

MacEwan carried the play throughout, but were unable to score until the 118th minute when Raeghan McCarthy corralled a cross off her chest from Costa and booted it under the bar.

It seemed like a golden goal at the time, but miraculously MRU found a way to equalize yet again. With about a minute remaining in extra time, Burns leapt to snag a deflected cross, but the ball tipped off her hands and Navroop Virk blasted the rebound off a defender and in.

"Three minutes of added time at the end and they got it back," said Cordeiro. "We'll have to check the film to see what happened. It was a big mosh pit in there, but credit them – they tapped it in.

"(After that) we had to switch again and say 'listen, you've got to believe in yourself.' I'm a big believer if you take care of business and do things properly, things will come. Credit our shooters, 4 out of 5 scored."

The Cougars are clearly disappointed to be heading home, but at least can hang their hats on some incredible resiliency.

"I'm extremely proud of the group," said MRU head coach Tino Fusco. "We came here hoping to get our first playoff win and we were a crossbar on the last kick here short. You know what, we'll learn from this.

"I know the girls will be disappointed," he added. "For the seniors, this is a hard way to go out, but we'll be back next year."