DAWSONVILLE -- The Dawson County boys played the perfect game Tuesday against St. Pius.
The only thing missing was the perfect ending.
St. Pius outlasted the Tigers 13-12 in an epic penalty kick phase to pull out a gut-wrenching 2-1 win over Dawson County in the second round of the Class AAA soccer playoffs.
Dawson County's goal came early in the second half and the Lions only goal in regulation came on a penalty kick two minutes after the Tigers scored. It was a deadlock the rest of the way.
The Tigers (15-3) had two chances in the PKs to win the game but could not take advantage. Coach Jed Lacey was left to think what could have been.
"We knew our defense was good enough to hold them and (St. Pius) couldn't score on us without the PK," Lacey said. "That's part of the game. We had our chances (in the PKs) but couldn't get it done. It hurts but I'm extremely proud of our guys."
The Tigers were looking to make history by advancing past the second round for the first time ever. Despite not reaching that goal, Lacey heaped praise on his team.
"This is the best team I've ever coached in over 20 years," he said. "They did everything we asked of them. They proved they can play with anyone. This was tough but they have nothing to be ashamed of."
Both teams missed twice in the PK phase until the final round. Dawson County was up 2-1 after the second round but missed on the third attempt. It stayed tied until St. Pius (15-5) would miss in the 12th round, giving the Tigers a chance to win it, but Alan Sanchez's shot just missed high to keep it tied. The game came down to Josh Litherland's attempt in the 15th round and Lions' keeper Jake Beyer was able to make a diving stop to preserve the victory.
"Their guy made a play," Lacey said. "It's never just one person. Everyone played the game exactly the way we wanted. We just didn't get the ending we wanted."
Both teams came out in a defensive posture in the opening minutes of the game. Dawson had the opening possession but moved the ball around in its own end. After a long pass into the Golden Lions end, St. Pius countered with a long ball that David McNabb was able to take the first shot of the game but missed wide three minutes in.
The two teams counter-attacked for the next 10 minutes until the Golden Lions took advantage of a Dawson turnover. St. Pius generated three shots on Tigers' keeper Brooks Fulford but Fulford made two saves to keep the game scoreless.
McNabb had another chance for St. Pius two minutes later on a breakaway down the left side but his blast from 5-yards out sailed into the side netting.
Dawson County's best chance came with just over 21 minutes left when Cole Edwards gathered a long ball left of the St. Pius goal. But his shot also found the side netting.
Both teams opened up the offense over the final 15 minutes.
St. Pius got another opportunity with 12 minutes left stealing a Dawson County pass with McNabb gathering it for a breakaway. His 10-yard blast, however, was knocked down by Fulford. The Lions' Thomas O'Leary stole another Dawson pass moments later and his 40-yard blast from the middle of the field sailed just wide left.
The Tigers would counter-attack off that miss and Brandon Lund looked to have a breakaway opportunity off a long pass down the left side. But Beyer outraced Lund to the ball to kill the scoring chance with just over eight minutes left in the half.
St. Pius had two chances over the next two minutes with crosses to McNabb. But two header chances sailed over the crossbar.
In the second half the Lions went right on the attack generating another cross to McNabb in the opening minute but again his header attempt sailed wide. Two minutes later McNabb fed J.R. Cozine for a 15-yard shot but Fulford snared the shot.
The Tigers then countered. A long ball down the left ended up on the foot of Randy Schultz, who led Edwards with a beautiful pass that he was able to slid past Beyer for a goal and a 1-0 lead with 36:28 left in the game.
The Lions would keep on the attack. Less than a minute later St. Pius would get a point-blank range shot from Cozine that Fulford was able to stop with a beautiful diving save. But two minutes later they generated a penalty kick when J.D. Manzo was taken down in the box. Manzo converted the PK to tie the game at 1-1 with 32:43 left.
Dawson County went on the attack the next five minutes producing two corners, the first of the game by either team, but could not muster any shots.
The two teams traded possessions a dozen times at midfield until the Lions got a looping pass into the box. But McNabb's shot sailed high over the crossbar with 25 minutes left. St. Pius would be awarded a direct kick just outside the Dawson box with 16:30 left but O'Leary's shot just sailed over the crossbar again.
The Tigers would counter with a beautiful pass by Lund that Edwards was tracking down before being hauled down just outside the St. Pius box for a direct kick with 14:35 left. The Lions' Jon Soloaga was awarded a red card forcing them to play a man short the rest of the way.
David Velasquez would take the direct kick and get two shots at goal but Beyer was able to make the diving save to keep the game tied.
St. Pius turned up the pressure over the final 10 minutes feeding McNabb, who would launch five shots in a four minute span. But none found the the net as the Dawson County defense was able to block two shots and Fulford made two more saves.
The Lions produced another direct kick with 3:30 left from 20-yards but the shot sailed wide. However, the Tigers' Velasquez was given a red card on the play to put both teams down a man.
In the first overtime, Dawson County generated the first real chance as Edwards dribbled through the Lions defense, passed to Sanchez, who crossed to Lund. But Lund's shot sailed high and wide with just under three minutes left.
The Lions best chance came with just over a minute left when McNabb had a run down the left side but his shot slid just wide right.
In the second overtime, St. Pius had the first solid chance when Thomas Glenn stole a Dawson County pass deep in the Tigers territory just 30 seconds in but his spinning shot sailed high.
After the two teams traded fouls the Lions had another solid chance with 1:30 left on a long cross to McNabb but he fanned on a header attempt. That was the last scoring chance before the teams went to PKs.