Popp’s OT goal lifts Polytech by Smyrna 3-2 in field hockey finale

Polytech’s Megan Popp, second from right, is swarmed by her teammates after her goal less than two minutes into the second half tied the score at one goal apiece. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

WOODSIDE — After a breakaway down the right side of the field, Megan Popp found herself with the ball all alone in front of the goal cage.

She paused, for a brief moment, before sending the ball into the back of the cage for the game-winning goal in overtime.

The score, her second of the game, sent the host Panthers past Smyrna High 3-2 Monday afternoon.

“I did hesitate a little,” a smiling Popp said. “We’ve been practicing that play all year. We were just trying to stay calm; I saw an open goal and I was just trying to make sure it went in.”

Senior Jennah Morris assisted on the game-winner, which came with 9:28 remaining in the OT period.

“We wanted to get our girls attacking up the right side,” said Polytech coach Torrie Huk. “We have a team filled with speed and a really high hockey I.Q., so for them to know the right side is their strong side and to get it over to that side, good things happen when they do that.”

The Henlopen North victory ends Polytech’s season with a 10-4-1 overall record (5-2 North) and drops the Eagles to 9-5-1 (4-2-1 North). Both teams will await the release of the Division I DIAA field hockey state tournament bracket.

Polytech’s Jennah Morris, left, battles Smyrna defender Megan Keller for possession of the ball.

Polytech is poised to make its 10th consecutive tourney appearance, with the streak dating back to the 2010 season. Smyrna earned its second consecutive nine-win season.

The D-I tourney is slated to begin Nov. 7 and conclude with the state championship at University of Delaware’s Rullo Stadium on Nov. 15.

It was Polytech’s sixth overtime game this season, with a 2-2-1 record in the previous five games. Popp also scored an OT winner against Sussex Tech High on Oct. 10 and assisted on an OT goal against Milford High on Oct. 22.

“We’ve had a lot of overtime games this season, so we’re very confident when we go into OT,” said Huk. “I just had to remind them that they’re good, that this game wasn’t over and that they could still win it.”

Polytech edged Smyrna, 13-9, in penalty corners and outshot them 16-5. The physical showdown between division opponents featured three yellow cards and two green cards.

Emily Thompson and Lexi Moore scored the two goals for the Eagles. Moore also registered an assist on Thompson’s first-half score.

Smyrna’s Emily Thompson (4) goes to hug her teammate Madison Simpson (11) after Thompson’s first-half goal breaks the scoreless tie.

Goalkeeper Brynn Rifino made nine saves for Smyrna.

“It was definitely one of our best battles to date,” said junior Mairead McKibbin. “As a team we just had to collect our thoughts, remain calm and we just had to finish — put it in the net.”

Polytech trailed 1-0 at the halftime break but made some adjustments and was able to control the ball and the tempo for much of the second half.

Smyrna goalkeeper Brynn Rifino makes a diving save in front of the goal cage.

The Panthers earned 10 penalty corners in the second half alone, preventing the Eagles from earning a lot of scoring opportunities through those 30 minutes.

After Popp tied the game, 1-1, with her first goal less than two minutes into the half, McKibbin scored the go-ahead goal at the 2:53 mark.

Junior Claire Fuchs assisted on Popp’s goal at the 28:22 mark.

It appeared Polytech would be able to cruise through the last few minutes of the game to pick up the 2-1 win. After earning one of its two second half corners, Moore netted the game-tying goal with just a half second remaining in regulation to force the 15-minute OT period.

“The good thing about overtime, is the score is 0-0, so I just told them to have composure,” said Huk. “They worked too hard in that game to kind of let that last 30 seconds tell us what the outcome of the game should be.”

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