SPRINGFIELD — From slog to thrill ride in two months flat, the Southern Oregon University men's soccer team has turned the 2017 season on its head and now owns two pieces of hardware to prove it.
The second was attained Monday afternoon, when the Raiders triumphed in overtime for the third time in four games as Logan Guler's header turned golden in the 99th minute to make them 2-1 winners over 13th-ranked Corban and Cascade Conference Tournament champions.
Guler's goal, made possible by Zac Hansen's on-the-money throw-in, triggered SOU's second dramatic championship celebration in 10 days. On Oct. 28, the Raiders scored in the 100th minute against Carroll to capture the third-year team's first CCC regular-season title.
"Two's better than one I guess," SOU head coach Biniam Afenegus said. "It's surreal and I'm just so happy for our guys to get the chance to experience so many firsts for this program. They're a deserving group and I'm really proud of their effort and tactical discipline."
After starting the season 0-5, SOU will enter its first NAIA Tournament with a record of 14-6-1, having outscored its last 16 opponents by a combined 32-5. The pairings for the 30-team opening round — which will be played at campus sites on Nov. 13 — will be revealed in a week.
Despite the outcome, Corban (15-2-4) will also be included with the CCC's second automatic bid, which it earned by advancing to the title game. The Warriors had won three of the last four CCC Championships.
When the day started, they were also the only CCC team SOU had yet to defeat in three seasons. In this year's regular-season meeting, on Sept. 30 in Salem, Corban claimed a 2-0 decision.
Before they could get settled in Monday, however, the Raiders established a different tone — taking a 1-0 lead on midfielder Ahmon Afenegus' second goal of the season, courtesy of Sean McManamon's cross that set up a tap-in.
Two swarming defenses limited opportunities from that point amid a fast pace. Finally, in the 81st minute, Corban got back-to-back tries at corner kicks and capitalized on the second as Timur Zhividze, the CCC offensive player of the year, lined a ball to the front of the goal, where Langdon Roscoe streaked in for the equalizing header.
That set the stage for overtime, where the Raiders had gone 0-2-4 in six tries dating back to 2015 until their current run of success.
"I think it's just come down to our composure and fitness in overtime," Biniam Afenegus said. "I believe we're the fittest team in the conference. Corban looked a little tired by the end and we just kept coming at them."
In the quarterfinal round of the CCC Tournament, Hansen played the hero role in OT against College of Idaho, giving SOU a 1-0 win with a header in the 91st.
This time, he set up Guler, a senior defender who has proven to have a flare for the dramatic. During SOU's 10-game unbeaten streak, Guler has headed in the game-winner three times. In a 1-0 semifinal win against Northwest Christian, he assisted Mitchell Pinney for the lone goal.
The CCC's regular-season champion has prevailed in the tournament nine times in the last 10 years.
Now, for the first time, the conference belongs to the Raiders.