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LANDSTUHL, Germany – Menwith Hill and Brussels will vie for the DODDS Europe Division III boys’ soccer title Thursday, after both teams were victorious in two thrilling semifinal games Wednesday.

The Mustangs, seeded sixth coming into this week’s postseason tourney, toppled No. 4 seed Sigonella, 4-3, relying on the quick legwork of their midfielders, some early scoring and a strong defensive effort.

But the tense 60 minutes of play, that included a runaway goal by Sigonella sweeper Pete Swisshelm in the waning minutes, couldn’t match the drama that unfolded late in the Brussels vs. Alconbury game.

Alconbury, the No. 1 seed, gave up two quick goals to No.2 seed Brussels and couldn’t dig out of a 3-1 hole, even though the Dragons wrested control of the ball for most of the game. But with about five minutes left in regulation, Alconbury closed to within one score.

And then the unbelievable happened: With the clock about to expire, Alconbury senior attacker Jeff Black Jr. was awarded a penalty kick.

Brussels goalkeeper Daniel Helbling blocked Black’s kick to the right, the whistle blew, and the Brigands started to celebrate.

Not so fast.

A referee ruled that Helbling had come out of the goalie box too soon, and Black was given a second chance to tie the score. This time, he aimed left and the ball went in, sending the game into overtime and leaving the Brigands stunned.

But Brussels prevailed in the first 10-minute overtime period, with senior stopper Nicholas Marinich drilling a monstrous free outside kick past Alconbury freshman goalkeeper Fritz Sherenco to give Brussels the win.

No one may have been happier than Helbling, who fended off numerous balls from Alconbury’s relentless attackers to preserve Brussels lead for most of the game.

“I don’t think I’ve been so stressed over a game before,” Helbling said.

Menwith Hill will get another crack at Brussels, the only team to defeat the Mustangs in postseason play this year.

“This is huge for Menwith Hill, being such a small school,” coach Ken Brooks said of the Mustangs playing for their first Division III boys’ soccer crown in many years. “We knew we had a special group of kids” this year.

“It’s crazy – I think we’re one of the smallest schools here,” said Menwith Hill senior forward Schuyler Backlar, who scored all four Mustang goals against Sigonella. “It’s nice to turn some heads.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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