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Sears’ trick lifts Gryphon soccer men into semifinals

GUELPH – Midfielder Jack Sears of the Guelph Gryphons decided to use a trick in their quarterfinal playoff shootout with the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks that he’d seen employed by Italian midfielder Jorginho.

The result was that it worked as Sears netted the clinching goal in penalty kicks as the top-seeded Gryphons slipped by eighth-seed Ontario Tech 2-1 in OUA men’s soccer quarterfinals Wednesday night at the Gryphon Soccer Complex.

Guelph Gryphons 2 Ontario Tech 1 (SO)

“It was actually funny because my run-up was based on a professional soccer player named Jorginho who plays for Chelsea,” Sears said. “One of my friends at home when we talked about it, I said ‘If I ever get the chance if I’m in a shootout and I’m going fifth, I’m doing it exactly like him.’ Sure enough, it came to me to get the game-winning goal and I said ‘You know what? I’m going to go for it.’ And it paid off. Pretty crazy.”

On his way to kicking the ball, Sears did a little jump and that set everything in motion.

“He does the exact same thing,” Sears said of Jorginho. “He does a little hop and then he places it. It’s really cool.”

The hop makes the goalkeeper commit and that gives the shooter a bit of an edge.

“That was the whole idea of it,” Sears said. “You run up to it and you jump and while you’re in the air, the keeper thinks you’re going to shoot for some reason and he always kind of leans. He leaned to my right and I was looking at him while I was in the air so I just passed it to the left and it was just like that.”

It was the second shootout win in a week for the Gryphon coaching staff as they’re also the staff of Guelph United who won their League1 Ontario Men’s Premier semifinal in a shootout Saturday night at Alumni Stadium. Goalkeeper Svyatoslav Artemenko was in net for both shootouts, but the Gryphon shootout didn’t go as long as United’s shootout when Artemenko, the 11th United player to shoot, netted the winner.

“I’ve been at the University of Guelph a long time and how many shootouts we’ve lost, I don’t feel guilty at all that we’ve won back-to-back shootouts,” Gryphon coach Keith Mason said. “One didn’t count for the university, but it’s still a shootout win. I’ve got English blood and we don’t win shootouts, but that’s back-to-back so we’re still alive. We’re still kicking.

“The character of the boys is what it came down to today. I mean at the end of the day, we didn’t play at our fluent best today. We’ve got a lot of young guys and nerves got to them a little bit, but boy did they fight. For me, the game you can wrap up in Jack Sears’ calmness at the end when (Ontario Tech) subs are yelling at him (from) behind the goal and everybody’s trying to put him off and he just steps up there, the calmest man on the field, and puts it right up the corner. That’s what we have to be. We’re going to have ups and downs and the character can take us a long way as long as we keep believing in ourselves and each other.”

Being the top seeds playing the lowest seed in the playoffs might have left people thinking the Gryphs would have an easy time with this game, but that just wasn’t the case.

“Honestly, in the OUA, when we came into this game we obviously knew it was Seed 1 vs. Seed 8, but we got that out of our heads because we know that every team that makes the playoffs in the OUA every year, 1 through 8 is strong,” Sears said. “The margin between the eight is very small, if any. Any underdog can win at any time so we came prepared and we knew that they were going to park the bus. We were patient and it paid off in the end.”

Playing against a top seed can also make an opponent play a little tougher and maybe even better than normal. Everyone wants to knock off the top dog.

“One hundred percent there’s a bigger target,” Mason said. “I don’t take too much credence in the seeding because every division is different. We know we’re going to play (Carleton). Carleton’s the reigning champion for the last couple of years and they are an awesome team. They could easily have been the top seeds as well, but in their division they ended up being fourth seeds. So it is what it is. We had a great regular season and we got top seed, which is great for home advantage. I’d say we were the underdog even though we’re the top seed because Carleton’s been phenomenal for the last couple of years and they still are. I would look at us for the underdog, but I still think we can do something there.”

Being at home meant the Gryphs got the louder support from the crowd, especially after the varsity men’s lacrosse team finished their practice on the adjoining field and decided to stick around and root on the soccer squad.

“That’s huge,” Sears said of the home crowd. “Honestly, it couldn’t have been better. As you see tonight, our fans came out and they were going crazy in the stands. They were making lots of noise and it really just helps us. It keeps us motivated and it makes us want to push that extra little bit when we’re at the end of the game.”

The Gryphs almost didn’t get to the shootout. They thought they’d scored on a free kick late in regulation time only to have the goal disallowed while they celebrated because one of the Gryphons was too close to the Ontario Tech wall of defenders.

Then Ontario Tech got to celebrate for real when Mateo Marques scored about two minutes into a half hour of overtime. There was about 12 minutes left in overtime when Ian Vidovich headed home the tying goal.

During play, the Gryphs tended to move the ball backward more than is their habit and that wasn’t by design.

“It wasn’t a plan,” Mason said. “I think that’s a stress thing. I think that’s a confidence thing. A lot of young players and if they lack a bit of confidence to go forward and do the positive thing, they do the simple and safe thing and the safe thing is going back. We talked about it at halftime and we talked about it at the beginning of overtime how it was too many back and square balls and that’s not us. I think they played easier and I think they played safe. Hopefully we can work on that in the next few days. We’ve got the first one under our belt that we can be a bit more positive in our play going forward.”

The Gryphs carried a roster of 32 this season, five more than usual, and 20 were not on the 2019 roster when the team last played as the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The Gryphs are to host the Carleton Ravens in league semifinal play Saturday at the Gryphon Soccer Complex. Game time is 1 p.m.

The Gryphs were defeated by Carleton in the 2019 semifinals when the Ravens won 1-0 on the opening day of the Final Four tournament. As a pandemic precaution, there is no Final Four tournament this year. Guelph rallied to win bronze in 2019.

This marks the second consecutive season the Gryphs have reached the league semifinals and the third time in five seasons. They won the league title in 2016.

“This team can go to levels that we’ve never reached as a university, as a program here,” Sears said. “Obviously we take it one game at a time and we focus on this next game against Carleton, but the world’s our playground. I think we can win it all.”


  • Guelph Sports Journal