The last of four quarterfinals provided high drama on the opening day of the CIS men’s soccer championship. The OUA champion and top-seeded University of Guelph Gryphons buried all five of their penalty kicks to defeat the Acadia Axemen 2-2 (5-3) in front of an elated crowd at Alumni Stadium on Thursday evening.

After a memorable 120-plus minutes of play, Owen Botelho, Jalen Noronha, Jace Kotsopolous, Tomasz Skublak and Chris Jacovou all scored from the spot, while goalkeeper Ben Carinci stopped Acadia’s first attempt by Ryan Parris. Jacovou clinched the victory when he scored low and left as Axemen goalkeeper Nigel Goodwin guessed wrong.

“Towards the end of the game, both teams were dead on their feet,” said Guelph coach Keith Mason. “It was a matter of will power. We kept pushing, we tried to get the winner.

“It went to penalty kicks and I just reminded the guys, like every day in practice, stay calm and just put it at the corners and they did. I’m very proud of them.

“It was a great advertisement for U Sportssoccer.”

Mason heaped praise on Carinci for his initial stop in the kicks.

“It was huge,” he said. “The players wanted to go second and I said, ‘No, go first because if we get the first goal, it puts the pressure on them.’ Luckily, we lost the toss and they picked to go second. I got what I wanted.”

Guelph will play the UQAM Citadins in the second semifinal on Saturday, after the RSEQ champions defeated the UBC Thunderbirds 3-2 in extra time earlier Thursday.

Acadia, buoyed by two equalizers, started the extra period in search of a winner. Axemen midfielder Jordan Fabri smashed a shot from outside of the Guelph 18-yard box in the 96th minute, forcing Carinci to parry the ball off of the crossbar before gathering. Goodwin responded with his own critical save on rookie Alexander Zis in the 104th minute. The Gryphons created some dramatic chances late in extra time but Acadia defenders threw themselves at the shots to send the match to penalties.

Kotsopolous and Zis scored for the Gryphons. Cooper Coats and Travis Fenning provided the regulation time goals for Acadia.

Guelph was dominant in possession and attack throughout most of the match but was unable to pull away from the Axemen, who withstood an early onslaught and clawed back twice after conceding. Kostopolous, the Gryphons’ leading goal man in the regular season with 17, scored in the 54th minute to give the hosts a 2-1 lead. The second-year player, from Burlington, Ont., stayed patient in the area before driving the ball past Goodwin.

The goal provided temporary relief to the nervous, pro-Gryphon crowd but the feelings were short-lived.  Coats stunned those in Alumni Stadium with a beautiful free kick from 22 yards out that found the top left corner of Carinci’s net less than four minutes later.

“It’s been an incredible experience being here,” said Acadia captain and First-Team All-Canadian Andrew Snyder. “This is our first championship since 1996. We tried to work our hardest throughout the whole game. I think we gave them a good run for their money. They’re an excellent team.”

The OUA champions looked threatening and decisive early, testing Goodwin on numerous occasions in the first 10 minutes. The Acadia goalkeeper made a tremendous save in the fourth minute after a wild sequence in his area that arose from a Guelph corner. Zis rattled the crossbar on a sensational effort moments later.

But the first-year, Oakville, Ont., native made no mistake with a free kick in the eighth minute from 25 yards out. Zis curled a beautiful right-footed shot just inside the right post past the helpless Goodwin. He almost added a quick second after one-timing a perfectly slotted pass but his strike was secured by Goodwin.

“I thought we started the game fantastically,” said Mason. “We had a lot of good chances. The final ball just let us down a little bit today and we didn’t kill the game off. Acadia are a great team and that gave them some hope. They gradually grew into the game.”

While the Axemen faced waves of Guelph attackers, the AUS silver medalists produced a great chance for an equalizer in the 20th minute. Fenning was sent in alone and outpaced the Gryphon defender but Caranci came out to meet him and smartly denied the opportunity without fouling in the area.

The teams exchanged a few more good chances in the latter part of the first half before Fenning eventually tied the match 1-1 in the 42nd minute with a well-placed shot that beat Carancini on his left side.

“The guys really bounced back and responded,” said Snyder. “Nigel did absolutely phenomenal. Travis with his first goal and Cooper with that free kick, were incredible. The guys were hungry to battle it out. Guelph definitely had some good opportunities in the first, they’re very offensive. We were very resilient.”

Goodwin saved five of Guelph’s six shots on target in the opening 45 minutes, while Acadia managed just two shots in the half, including Fenning’s successful strike.

The Gryphons now advance to the semifinals and will play UQAM on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. while Acadia will play UBC tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.

ACA 1-1-0-0: 2
GUE: 1-1-0-0: 2

First Half
1. GUE Alexander Zis (1), 7:47
2. ACA Travis Fenning (1), 41:57

Second Half
3. GUE Jace Kotsopoulos (53:01)
4. ACA Cooper Coats (56:49)

Extra Time (2×15 mins)
(no score)

GUE Owen Botelho, goal
ACA Ryan Parris, saved
GUE  JalenNoronha , saved
ACA Tyler Connolly, goal
GUE Jace Kotsopoulos, goal
ACA Sean Langille, goal
GUE Tomasz Skublak, goal
ACA Cooper Coats, goal
GUE Chrs Jacovou, goal

ACA: Nigel Goodwin (L 2 GA, 8 save, 120:00, 0-1)
GUE: Benjamin Caranci (W 2 GA, 3 save, 120:00, 1-0)

Team Stats
Shots: ACA 8, GUE 15
Shots on net: ACA 5, GUE 10
Corners: ACA 5, GUE 13
Offsides: ACA 0, GUE 2
Fouls: ACA 0, GUE 0
Yellow cards: Jace Kotsopoulos (GUE), Tomasz Skublak (GUE), Travis Fenning (ACA)
Red cards: None

Players of the game:
ACA: Andrew Synder
GUE: Benjamin Caranci

Thursday, Nov. 10
11:00 Quarter-final 1: Alberta def. York 2-0
13:30 Quarter-final 2: Cape Breton def. Toronto 1-0-OT
16:00 Quarter-final 3: UQAM def. UBC 3-2-OT
19:00 Quarter-final 4: Guelph def. Acadia 2-2 (PK)

Friday, Nov. 11
11:00 Consolation 1: York vs. Toronto (SportsCanada.TV)
13:30 Consolation 2: UBC vs. Acadia (SportsCanada.TV)

Saturday, Nov. 12
11:00 Semifinal 1: Alberta vs. Cape Breton (SportsCanada.TV)
13:30 Semifinal 2: UQAM vs Guelph (SportsCanada.TV)
16:00 5th-place game (SportsCanada.TV)

Sunday, Nov. 13
11:00 Bronze medal (SportsCanada.TV)
14:00 Championship final (SportsCanada.TV)