ATLANTA — With a chance to win the South Atlantic Conference Championship on their home field, the Atlanta Silverbacks defeated Tobacco Road FC 2-1 on a headed goal from Avery Shepard in overtime in dramatic fashion.
Atlanta scored back-to-back goals after trailing 1-0 for almost 20 minutes and scored the deciding goal in the first overtime period.
Mitch Garcia scored the Silverbacks’ first goal in the first minute of stoppage time to send the game into overtime.
“I just thought to myself, If I get a touch on it, it will go in,” Shepard said. “I turned and the keeper was out and I was lucky enough to get it in. It’s tough when you’re chasing the game with little time left and you just hope that you get that one opportunity. We were fortunate enough to get that one opportunity and it went in was a good feeling. Unbelievable feeling.”
Garcia was equally as thrilled to tie the game up for the Silverbacks and help send the game into overtime.
“We had come too far and worked too hard to go down with a loss,” Garcia said. “I caused the penalty that allowed Tobacco Road to score so I just put my team above myself. They deserved it more than I did and I felt good and connected. To see it go in, in a time like that."
The Silverbacks went on the attack in the early minutes and made it into enemy territory on several occasions but were unable to get any quality shots off.
Atlanta’s first real threat came at the 20-minute mark when Gabriel Obatola nearly beat Tobacco Road’s goalie in a foot race right in front of the net. However, the goalie fell on the ball as Obatola jumped over him to end the possession.
Tobacco Road went on the attack on their ensuing possession and nearly scored off of a well-executed set piece but the Silverbacks’ goalkeeper Bryce Billington was able to corral it.
Just seven seconds later, Tobacco Road fired a ball into the corner of the goal but an acrobatic dive from Billington allowed him to catch the ball in mid-flight to keep the ball away.
Standout striker Pedro Polaz decided to take matters into his own hands at the 37-minute mark and with a little razzle dazzle nearly scored with three defenders standing around him, but the Tobacco Road goalie slapped the ball away.
After two great saves from Billington to start the second half, he drew his hardest challenge yet.
Tobacco Road was rewarded with a free kick and connected on a ball drilled right down the middle at the 73-minute mark to give them a 1-0 lead.
The Silverbacks had opportunity after opportunity in the closing minutes but could not connect. Six different Silverbacks had great looks but some bad luck and misfortune kept the game at 1-0 heading into stoppage time.
One minute into extra time with the Silverbacks desperate for anything, Mitch Garcia found the back of the net off of a set piece to knot the game up at 1-1.
With the game well into overtime, Shepard connected on a headed goal over the diving Tobacco Road goalie to put the Silverbacks up 2-1 at the end of the first overtime period.
Atlanta held Tobacco Road off the board in the second overtime period to win the game.
“This program is so difficult to handle because we don’t have the money like everyone else, so this job is mostly for the players,” Silverbacks coach Jacenir Silva said. “I do this to support my players. Someone told me two years ago that I wasn’t wanted here anymore so this one is for that guy. It feels so great to win the conference and to see where we go next.”