BELMONT ã Rich Sullivan exists since 1974.
In all these years, he claims to have seen it all.
So the game the long-serving boys’ football coach from Belfast Central School attended under a full moon in Genesee Valley didn’t surprise him the least.
This, however, disappointed him.
You’ll feel that when your team squanders a four-goal lead with less than 26 minutes left in a cup playoff game.
That’s what happened on Wednesday when second-seeded Andover scored four times in 25 minutes in the second half and won on Kyle Geer’s 45-foot direct kick with 12:17 left in the game. the golden goal second period, 5-4, to claim a spot in FridayÞs Section 6 Class D title game.
The victory also gave Andover coach Mark Sullivan his first playoff victory against his father, Rich, whose team had won in three previous playoff encounters.
“The only time I feel like a win is in the bag is if there are less than 10 seconds left and we have a three-goal lead,” the elder Sullivan said. I’ve seen it all happen in this game.
ßIt was frustrating, but if you look at the goals Andover scored, they were all great goals… there was nothing cheap about any of them.à
Dustin Schuld gave the No. 3 Bulldogs (10-7-1) a 2-0 lead, scoring first on a breakaway with 17:16 left in the first half, then on a pass from Noah Alessi at the third minute of play in the second half.
Seven minutes later Jordan Fuller scored from a corner and seven minutes later Cody Winchell made it 4-0 with a penalty.
The Panthers (11-5-2) began their comeback when Ryan Shay headed a pass from his younger brother, Seth, past Belfast goalkeeper Cody Miller (7 saves) with 25:28 left in the game.
At 20:46, Seth scored on a pass from Ryan and with 3:32 left, Ryan found the back of the net, again on a pass from Seth.
Finally, with 1:29 to go, Ryan beat Miller from a penalty, setting the stage for Geer’s overtime heroism.
The game’s save came from Andover freshman Greg Starks.
As the sudden-death clock for the first 15-minute extra session ran out, Belfast went on a mad dash and got a 20-foot shot to the left from StarksÞ.
He managed to reach back and catch the ball in the air with seven seconds left.
ßTHAT SHOT was behind him, said young Sullivan. “I have to be patient with him because he’s only a freshman, but he showed in this snap why he was going to be good.”
Starks finished the game with six saves.
The ninth-year Andover mentor went on to explain how his team staged his remarkable comeback.
“We don’t have a very deep bench,” he said. ßYou must therefore be in good condition and be able to outrun the teams at the end of the match.
ßI led these guys through a very tough week of training.à
This tenacity did not escape his father.
“I take my hat off to them,” he said. ßThey certainly deserved to win. It was played on the critical time of the second half.
“In 99% of games where you have a team down four goals in the second half, it’s hard to keep your spirits up. Andover showed a lot of heart and they kept going.
“My kids thought they were going to play more defensively and as a result,” he added, “we were taken out of our game… we couldn’t get the ball up the pitch.” My guys felt they could just fall back and help more (in defense) and all of a sudden we’re playing with nine or 10 defenders.
“I don’t think Andover had a lot of passing game in the first half,” Sullivan said. “But all it took was that first goal and they settled in and their wings did a great job…they ate my kids all night.
“It was frustrating to lose,” the elder Sullivan said. “I don’t necessarily think we played badly enough to lose. I think Andover played well enough to win.
“When you have achieved so many goals and your children do not give up, you have to admire it.”
AS FOR Andover, young Sullivan spoke proudly after the game.
“I told my guys, whatever happens after that, they’ve earned a huge amount of respect tonight,” he said. ßTo fight against a quality team like Belfast says a lot about your character.
ßI have been preaching from the start that you can never give up.
ßComing back from a 4-0 loss shows me a lot of courage and heart.à
Next up for Andover is a title showdown with Allegany County Division II rival Whitesville.
“Getting the chance to play them again was a big part of the motivation for our guys tonight,” Sullivan said. ßWe only played them once during the season this year because a game was called off.
ßBut playing them for a Section 5 title means a little more than playing them for Homecoming.à