Written by Taylor Prichard
Photo by Valerie Wutti
The Carleton Ravens are headed back to the national final for the first time in 19 years following a thrilling 3-2 extra time victory over the Cape Breton Capers in Saturday’s second semifinal at the U SPORTS Men’s Soccer Championship.
The host Ravens blew a two-goal lead late in regulation that forced extra time, but fourth-year Ottawa, Ont. native Ricky Comba saved his team’s season by netting the winning goal to propel Carleton into Sunday’s gold medal game.
Carleton entered the matchup looking for a place in the national title game for the third time in program history with appearances in 1984 and 2002. Meanwhile, Cape Breton hoped to book their ticket to the final for the third time in the past four seasons.
Following his clinching penalty kick in the quarterfinal shootout win over UBC, Ravens defender Tareq Hamad looked to make an impact in attack with a glancing header from a corner that narrowly missed the goal in the game’s early moments.
Hamad was involved in another key play just minutes later when he managed to clear a goal-bound lob shot from Caper Charlie Waters, who beat Carleton keeper Kyle Potter, but could not get enough pace on the ball for a go-ahead marker.
Cape Breton’s set pieces troubled the Ravens in the first half, as one tactically brilliant setup led to a one-timed hit 20 yards out that deflected and grazed the outside post, much to the relief of the home crowd.
Despite holding little possession in the opening half hour, Carleton stunned the Capers in minute thirty-two as senior striker Gabriel Bitar produced a sensational arching strike from just outside the box to beat Clarke to send Carleton’s ‘Kick It To Bronson’ crew into ecstasy.
With pressure mounting at the Cape Breton end and Carleton looking to add a second before half, the Ravens drew a penalty on the cusp of halftime when Capers All-Canadian defender Euan Bauld was whistled for a handball inside the box. Ravens veteran midfielder Dario Conte stepped up and hammered his spot kick into the top left corner leading to a mob scene celebration on the sideline.
Trailing by two goals entering the second half, the Capers were unable to penetrate the Carleton defence as a cohesive back four and deep-lying midfield gave little time and space to the AUS champions.
With the Ravens well in control, winger Scott Mazzotta brought a fine save out of Daniel Clarke with twenty minutes to go as Carleton threatened, but the Capers denied the Ravens a third.
The Capers settled down and began chipping away at Carleton’s lead with a physical brand of play that allowed them to muscle their way back into the game.
In the 88th minute, forward Cian Lynch pulled one back for Cape Breton with a close-up strike to silence the jubilant Ravens supporters prepared to celebrate a berth in Sunday’s final.
With a stunned pro-Carleton audience holding its collective breath in added time, the Capers delivered another massive blow as Charlie Waters tied the game at 2-2 on a majestic in-swinging corner kick that made its way over the swarm of players in the six-yard box to hit the back of the net in the 92nd minute. The Capers rejoiced by taunting the Carleton supporters with a variety of gestures before the game headed into extra time.
The first session of extra time began with a heated melee in front of the Cape Breton bench which saw an assistant Capers coach receive a yellow card following a player takedown.
Capers striker Kairo Coore nearly scored Cape Breton’s third goal but a lunging Ravens defender blocked his path at goal, leading to Coore’s plead for a penalty, while Cian Lynch’s ambitious bicycle kick effort flew wide right as the game remained tied at two with 15 minutes to play.
Early in the second frame of extra time, the Ravens rose to the occasion to score the fixture’s game-winning goal when a sequence of headers saw the ball fall into the path of Ricky Comba, who chested it down before sniping a volley past Daniel Clarke to give the Ravens the 3-2 advantage in the 106th minute.
Cape Breton had one last glorious opportunity to tie it up again in the dying minutes, but a goal-line clearance would deny the Capers a leveller.
The sound of the final whistle was accompanied by explosive home crowd roar, as the Ravens moved one step closer to winning their first-ever men’s university soccer crown.
With the victory, Carleton heads into Sunday’s national final where they will take on the Montreal Carabins at 2:00 PM EST. Despite a valiant comeback, the Cape Breton Capers will play for bronze when they take on the Guelph Gryphons at 11:00 AM EST.
Nike Team Players of the Game
CAR: Tarek Hamad
CBU: Charlie Waters
CAR: 2-0-1: 3
CBU: 0-2-0: 2
CAR Gabriel Bitar (1), 32nd minute
CAR Dario Conte (1)(PK), 45th (+3) minute
CBU Cian Lynch (1), 88th minute
CBU Charlie Waters (1), 90th (+2) minute
CAR Ricky Comba (1), 106th minute