Columbus soccer players began a “championship-style” celebration, running around and screaming with fans Thursday night on their home field.
Their coach Michael Stewart shouted “we haven’t won anything yet.”
Stewart shouldn’t be faulted for wanting his team to remain focused.
But it’s hard to blame the Explorers for taking a moment to relish what they have accomplished so far.
Fresh off winning its first district title in 25 years, Columbus secured its first regional playoff victory since 1998 and only its second ever with a dramatic 3-2 overtime win over visiting Varela in a Region 4-5A quarterfinal.
On a broken play near the Vipers goal, Eddie Diaz crossed the ball to freshman David Gunter, who then drove the ball into the back of the net with 3:01 left in overtime, sending the Explorers (18-4-5) one step further in the postseason.
Columbus will host Sunset on Tuesday in the regional semifinals at 7 p.m.
“I’m very proud of these kids because it’s a process that started three years ago,” Stewart said. “That season we had 14 freshmen and they’ve matured, and their goals are starting to materialize.”
Gunter’s game-winner came shortly after Varela drew and converted its second penalty shot of the match.
Senior Kevin Pizzolo scored both, with the second tying the match 2-2 with 10:29 remaining in the second half. Pizzolo’s first such conversion gave Varela its only lead early in the first half at 1-0.
But junior Stefano Dongo provided Columbus the equalizer with his first goal of the season.
“The two penalties were tough, but you have to be ready when adversity comes,” Stewart said. “This is our third game going to overtime, and luckily we didn’t let it go to penalty kicks.”
A few minutes later, senior Danny Del Rio gave Columbus the lead at 2-1 going into halftime.
Pineiro scored twice and Diaz tallied once and added two assists to lead Sunset to the win over Gables, advancing the Knights (14-3-5) to Tuesday’s regional semifinal game at Columbus at 7 p.m.
“It was a combination of our two big threats up top [Pineiro and Diaz], and we made a formation change,” Sunset coach Jay Flipse said. “Diaz was on the left side, and we put him in the middle so he could link up with Pineiro.”
The plan worked as the Knights snapped a 1-1 tie with a goal by Diaz and one by Pineiro within a one-minute span halfway through the second half.
Pineiro, a Florida Atlantic recruit who has 25 goals this season, had put Sunset up 1-0 just 18 minutes into the game, taking a pass from Diaz and beating Gables goalie Daniel Rodriguez.
Gables (15-3-2), an experienced team that started nine seniors, tied the score 1-1 on a goal in the 29th. It came on a rebound off of Sunset goalie David Villegas.
Flipse, who won two state titles with Killian in the ’90s and two in the past decade with Sunset, was not pleased with the 1-1 halftime score or the Knights’ lack of possession.
“We were playing kick ball,” Pineiro said. “[Flipse] wants us to touch the ball. If we touch the ball, we win.”
The first goal came on a header by Jesus Bolivar, who put one in off of a corner kick in the first half.
“The conditions weren’t the best to play in, but it was the same for both teams,” Gulliver coach Matias Asorey said. “They defend well. But our kids did well. We didn’t give them too many chances to score. With about 10 minutes left to go we were able to get the second one.”
With less than 10 minutes left, the Raiders (15-1-1) turned up the offense with goals by Alex Moztarzadeh and Luis Diego to move the score to 3-0.
The win sends the Gulliver boys into the semifinals on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Ransom Everlades against the winner of the Ransom/Coral Shores game.