That's what Peninsula College's Pirates sailed into Saturday night in Bellingham after a fury of goals staved off sure elimination and key saves from keeper Jase Hall gave them a 4-2, shoot-out win against Whatcom in the NWAACC quarterfinals.
The win puts Peninsula in the conference semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Last year, the Pirates lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Spokane in the semifinals and dropped the consolation game the next day to go 0-2 in their first trip to the NWAACC final four.
It sure didn't look like the Pirates were headed for anything but disappointment 79 minutes into Saturday's game, as Whatcom built a 2-0 lead.
"We were playing the right stuff - we had three opportunities we couldn't finish in the first half and let Whatcom hang around," Peninsula coach Andrew Chapman said. "We were a little worried but we added a third forward ... and the players really stepped it up."
But sophomore Sean Gaskins halved the Orca lead with a header off a Hugo Vasquez free kick and Ernest Boham tied the game a minute later with a 35-yard blast that found the upper left corner of the Whatcom goal.
Peninsula had a chance to pull off the improbable victory when John Troka put them ahead 3-2 with a nice backdoor feed from Gaskins five minutes later.
Despite a pair of late-game red cards, Whatcom got an equalizer of its own when an Orca headed in a free kick to the far post with less than a minute left.
After two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, it all came down to a shoot-out. After one Pirate missed his kick, Peninsula got consecutive scores from Cody Sloan, Teagan Cambier and Boham. Meanwhile, Hall made a pair of outstanding saves on Whatcom shooters and, with a 3-2 lead in the shoot-out, Peninsula's Buck Kunz chipped in the game winner.
"An intense game for sure," Chapman said.
It was the Pirates' 10th win in a row - not bad for a team that started out 1-5-1.
After a 3-1 loss to Bellevue on Sept. 18, the Pirates have gone 13-0-2 and outscored opponents 38-9.
They've saved the best for last, however, coming up with a 1-0 win against defending NWAACC champion Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., on Nov. 12. A defensive struggle all the way through, the two teams battled to a scoreless tie for 97 minutes until Boham broke the game open. Peninsula's all-time leading goal-scorer took a pass from Cory Matthews and planted it into the net seven minutes into overtime, helping them advance to the quarterfinal match against Whatcom.
Peninsula played the Orcas three times this season, going 2-0-1.
Peninsula now advances to play East division champion Walla Walla in the semifinals while South division champ Chemeketa (13-2-6) takes on East division runner-up Spokane (13-7-3). Both games are at the multi-sport Starfire Complex in Tukwila.
"Walla Walla is a strong program," Chapman said. "I think they've played only one game on turf. They're always very tough at home ... but this is on a neutral field."
For Chapman and five returnees from last year's Pirate squad, the Walla Walla match-up provides a chance at redemption. In last season's semifinal, with just 30 seconds left in a scoreless tie, a Spokane player flipped the ball inside the P.C. penalty box and hit the hand of a Pirate defender, giving the Sasquatch a penalty kick try with virtually no time left. Spokane converted, ending Peninsula's season.
"We're not going to leave it up to the ref's hands," Chapman said. "We're going to take care of it early this time and not wait around. The guys want to make a statement."
That statement? First NWAACC soccer champions in school history.
Three of the four NWAACC tourney quarterfinals went to shoot-outs, with two of them seeing zero scores in regulation ... How accurate is the NWAACC coaches' soccer poll? All top eight-ranked teams either advanced past the first round or were already in the quarterfinals (out of eight spots) ... The men's bracket started out all about East/West power: Both divisions saw their No. 2-3 seeds advanced in the first round while both North and South division No. 2-3 seeds fell. Now just the Pirates from the West remain alive while the East has two teams in the semis.
Peninsula in the playoffs
With Saturday's fantastic finish, the Pirates (14-5-3) advance to the NWAACC semifinals where they will take on No. 3-ranked Walla Walla (16-3-2), the East division champion at 4 p.m., Nov. 22 at Tukwila's Starfire Complex. With a win, Peninsula advances to the NWAACC championship game Nov. 23 to face the winner of the Chemeketa-Spokane game while a loss sends the Pirates to the third/fourth-place contest that same day.