Big Reds drop heartbreaker in state semi

Parkersburg forward Immanuel Opoku-Duah (10) looks to receive the ball off a throw-in during the Big Reds’ 3-2 loss to University in the first of two Class AAA state soccer semifinals Friday at Cline Field in Beckley. Photo by Joe Albright.

BECKLEY — University’s Joseph Biafora played the role of hero here Friday night as he sent the last of his three goals screaming past Parkersburg’s Jacob McKnight in the 98th minute to send the Hawks to their first ever state championship game, 3-2, on Cline Field.

The talented sophomore took a ball off an air pass, made a slick move to get by the Big Reds’ Jack Johnson, and then beat McKnight with a shot to his left. The Hawks striker ripped his shirt off in celebration and ran around the field waiting for his teammates to figure out what happened.

“My first thought was ‘oh man, we are going to the finals,” said Biafora. “I am lost for words and I am just so excited.”

University had to work for the win, facing a team who had just beat it 5-2 a few weeks ago. This game started out rough for the Hawks too. They fell behind early.

Parkersburg was on the attack right out of the gate and unlike other games in this postseason, the Big Reds took the lead early when Murad Hamurani took a throw-in from Matt Runyon and a flick by Nathan Burd and put it in the back of the net 25 minutes in.

Parkersburg defender Jack Johnson works against University defender D.K. Huckaby Friday during the Big Reds’ 3-2 loss to University in the first of two Class AAA state soccer semifinals Friday at Cline Field in Beckley. Photo by Joe Albright.

“We knew there would be space on the wings and the outside mids would have to get on the run first,” said Big Reds senior striker Immanuel Opoku-Duah. “Murad did what he was supposed to do and ended up giving us the lead.”

“It was a good throw in from Matt,” said Hamurani. “Also a good flick from Nathan and I was just there to send it in.”

However, Parkersburg didn’t have long to revel in its early advantage as Biafora faked out Johnson and kicked the ball past McKnight to even things at 1-1 in the 31st minute of play. The score could easily have been 2-1 Hawks at this point as Biafora had a chance minutes earlier with no one close to him. The young player sent a cross across the mouth of the goal and just a smidge past his target.

Both teams played hard the rest of the half with neither being able to create much offense. The clubs headed to the locker room knotted up at 1-1.

University didn’t have to take long to get its first lead of the game after halftime. Once again, Biafora created some offense and sent the Hawks fan base and his team into frenzy when he scored just 30 seconds into the second half.

PHS got the equalizer 11 minutes later after Opoku-Duah broke free from his defenders and snuck a shot past University’s Matt Brock. The Big Red senior’s goal proved a turning point and really galvanized the rest of his teammates. Parkersburg dominated possession and had a chance to win the game in the 75th minute.

Hamurani had a chance to give PHS the lead as he was mere feet from the goal. However, the ball slipped between his defender and his legs and into the hands of Brock to end the threat.

University got one final look at a goal in regulation after the Hawks managed to get the ball deep into their offensive zone with just a minute left. A winning score in the first 80 minutes was not to be however as PHS cleared and sent the game to extra time.

Neither team was able to do much in the first extra period. Parkersburg had a great chance to win the game when Hamurani fed a streaking Nathan Burd a cross-kick close to his opponents’ goal. However, Burd’s sliding attempt missed the ball and University was awarded a goal kick.

Both teams played tight into the final two minutes before penalty kicks but Biafora didn’t let the game get that far as he struck his goal to send his team and its fans into an uproar.

“What a great game? What an outstanding game,” said PHS head man Don Fosselman. “It was really a game that deserved to be in a semifinal match. I give credit to University for creating breakaways and finishing on their shots. Their counterattack was their main offensive weapon and it was very unfortunate on that last goal.”

University will play the winner of George Washington and Jefferson at 1 p.m. today to decide the state championship.