VANCOUVER – Trinity Western's Leighton Johnson (Strathmore, Alta.) scored the overtime winner, as the Spartans upended No. 3-ranked Alberta 3-2 in the Canada West semifinals Saturday at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium. The win sends TWU to the Canada West Gold Medal Match for the first time since 2008.
Within the first five minutes of extra time, Johnson found the game-winner, taking a pass from Aidan Moore (Langley, B.C.) and burying his third goal of the post-season. With first-year goalie Sebastian Colyn (Langley, B.C.) holding the fort, the Spartans held off the Golden Bears to advance to the final.
TWU will play UBC in the conference final, with the winner advancing to the U SPORTS championship tournament, which will be hosted by Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. Nov. 9-12. The Thunderbirds beat TRU 3-1 in the other semifinal.
Friday's win was something of a mirror image of last year's postseason, when it was the Bears knocking off the Spartans 1-0 in overtime in the Canada West semifinals. Alberta went on to win both the Canada West and U SPORTS championships.
The Golden Bears controlled the flow of the game through the beginning portion of the first half, dominating possession and chances. That control of possession allowed for little offense from the Spartans.
A shift in chances came in the 20th minute when Elie Gindo (Langley, B.C.) almost beat Bears keeper Connor James after a fumbled save. From then on, the Spartans gained a semblance of an attack and continued to challenge James.
At the start of the second half it was Alberta coming out on the front foot again.
In the 49th minute Trinity Western gave up a free kick just outside their own box. The Spartans paid the price as Ajeej Sarkaria took the kick, finding the head of Cameron Sjerve, who made no mistake in getting it into the back of the net.
With the deadlock broken what came next was a flurry of chances for both teams.
The Spartans got on board in the 64th minute when a clumsy Bear's challenge inside the box resulted in a penalty. Caleb Johnson (Strathmore, Alta.) stood over the ball before slotting it into the left side of the net to equalize.
Shortly after it was the Spartans striking again. A long pass found Domenic Poletto (Calgary) in stride as the keeper, James, came rushing out of the box to clear the ball. James' clearance came off Poletto and back into the path of the forward, who fired off the shot to make it 2-1 for the Spartans in the 70th minute.
Seven minutes later the referee gave yet another penalty, this time Alberta was the beneficiary. The Golden Bears dead ball specialist, Sarkaria, placed the ball into the bottom left corner. The goal brought the game to 2-2 at the 77th minute.
With both offenses highly active in the second half, neither teams could pull away from each other in the final minutes.
In the 95th Trinity Western found the go-ahead goal.
TWU Head Coach Mike Shearon
"We had a bit of adversity in the first half. I thought Alberta was the better team and we had to fight through that and obviously go into overtime and get the result. We were on the front foot most of the second half and we just had to keep going. Last year we lost to them in an overtime period and we didn't want to let that happen again so there's a little extra motivation in that too. It's time to go win a banner tomorrow."
• The Spartans beat Alberta twice this year, also knocking off the Golden Bears with a 2-0 regular season win in Edmonton.
• TWU was 1-1 against UBC during the regular season, losing 1-0 early in the season before a 2-1 victory in the Spartans penultimate regular season contest.
• The last time TWU played in the conference final, in 2008, the Spartans lost 4-1 against Victoria.
• The last time TWU won a Canada West title TWU was in 2007, when the Spartans beat UBC 2-1 in overtime to capture their third straight conference championship.