With roughly 30 seconds left in stoppage time, in a boys soccer match that seemed destined for overtime Friday, Juneau's Johnny Joyce scored on a free kick to seize a 2-1 semifinal win over West in the state high school soccer tournament.
"I haven't seen many games end that way in regulation," Juneau coach Gary Lehnhart said.
Joyce's big kick from the right corner put a cap on a cold, windy evening at Dimond Alumni Field and put Juneau in the state title match for the 11th time in 13 seasons.
The Crimson Bears will attempt to win their third straight title and sixth overall against Dimond in Saturday's final. The Lynx earned their spot with a 3-0 win over South earlier Friday.
"You look up at the championship and that's kind of the goal of soccer," Juneau senior Colin Zheng said. "Now we're finally here and it's a great feeling. We'll go out on the field and we'll find a way to win, find a way to play our game. We'll just play as hard as we can and hope for the best."
Zheng helped anchor a Juneau defense that corralled the Eagles at nearly every turn, making it difficult to find good chances in a match that began with a furious exchange.
Jackson Lehnhart opened the scoring for Juneau when he broke free from a chaotic scramble near the Eagles' goal line, but West bounced back in the seventh minute, with Josh Contreras scoring on a nearly identical picture of mayhem in front of Juneau's goal.
"We came out here on the pitch believing, and when they scored that goal we thought, 'We got to get it back right away,' " said Contreras.
The scramble in front of the net was familiar, Contreras said, because it happened to be exactly like a game the Eagles play in practice, a game in which all the players jam into the penalty box and fight for a loose ball.
Both teams struggled to create many promising shots throughout the rest of the match, so Contreras said Joyce's goal in the waning seconds caused a momentary sting.
"You know what, it's not a disappointing loss," Contreras said. "It was a great game. We fought hard for 80 minutes. They got a lucky goal at the end and good for them."
Dimond didn't wait quite as long as Juneau to seal its win, but still made its home fans wait until the 72nd minute to see a goal. Travis Merritt broke the seal with a hard crossing shot into the right corner of the net, Michael Sedor followed with a goal about three minutes later and Austin Portch struck for Dimond's final goal in stoppage time.
South goalie Griffin Toomey suffered a shoulder injury earlier in the second half while diving for a save and said the injury may have hampered his ability to defend the shot by Merritt.
"Very limited range with my right arm," he said. "I was kind of favoring my right side and I left my front post open. I pretty much gave him an open net to shoot on."
For Merritt, it was his second straight day scoring a match-winning goal, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
"I was so relieved," he said. "It was such an amazing feeling."
The win over South held a little extra significance because the Wolverines knocked Dimond out of the state tournament last season in a semifinal match. Friday's match was the fourth meeting between the teams this season, with Dimond winning three.
"The whole game was definitely emotionally tough," Merritt said. "They had so many chances, we had so many chances. Luckily we got our chances into the goal."
Dimond and Juneau have met four times in state championship matches, Juneau winning the most recent in 2010. The only time Dimond beat Juneau was in 2002, which is the last time the Lynx won a state title.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
State High School Soccer Championships
2012 ASAA/First National Bank
Alaska State High School Soccer Championships
Dimond 3, South 0
Juneau 2, West 1
Homer 4, Wasilla 2
Colony 3, West Valley 2
Championship -- Dimond vs. Juneau, 5:45 p.m.
3rd/5th place -- South vs. West, 1:15 p.m.
4th/6th place -- Homer vs. Colony, 9:45 a.m.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News