"It was a really good game, two really good teams playing against each other," said Cedarcrest head coach Zack Pittis. "We were fortunate to come out on top."
Cedarcrest goalkeeper Elliot Wills made back-to-back saves in the shootout to set up Gifford's clinching penalty.
The victory came exactly two years to the day of Cedarcrest's last win over the Wildcats. The Red Wolves (10-1-0 league, 12-1-0 overall) and Archbishop Murphy (9-2-0, 10-2-1) are now tied for first place in the Cascade Conference with 29 points each.
Following a scoreless first half, Darian Pendergraft hammered home a shot from 22 yards to give the home Red Wolves a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute.
Although Cedarcrest defense had shut out its previous six opponents, Archbishop Murphy emphatically ended that streak with two goals in two minutes. Tyler Ptacek pounced on a loose ball in the Red Wolves' penalty area and scored in the 47th minute to tie the game. Jalen Crisler then assisted on Josh Bartley's strike a minute later as Murphy took a 2-1 lead.
Suddenly the Red Wolves found themselves in an unusual situation.
"I wasn't sure how we would react," said Pittis. "We haven't been down much this season. Initially we panicked a little, but then we settled down and got a couple of good looks."
With no alternative, Pittis pushed more players forward in search of an equalizier and Gifford came through when his shot from the top of the box found the back of the net with less than 13 minutes left in regulation.
Both teams created a couple of chances during the remainder of normal time, but Pittis said the two sides became cautious in overtime, which forced penalties.
After the first two kickers for each team converted, Murphy keeper Jeff Scavotto saved Cedarcrest's third attempt to give the Wildcats an advantage. But Wills guessed correctly on the Wildcats' next two shots, making two saves, and Gifford sent Scavotto the wrong way to clinch the shootout 4-2.
Despite being excited for the win and the opportunity to grab at least a share of the league title, Pittis remained cautious about Cedarcrest's final three regular season games.
"You can't get too high or too low ... It's gotta be the same approach all year, one game at a time," said Pittis. "It has to be that way, we can't start looking past Granite Falls on Monday."
At Cedarcrest H.S.
Goals--Darian Pendergraft (C), Tyler Ptacek (AM), Josh Bartley (AM), Ryan Gifford (C). Assists--Jalen Crisler (AM) 2. Goalkeepers--Archbishop Murphy: Jeff Scavotto. Cedarcrest: Elliot Wills. Records--Archbishop Murphy: 9-2-0 league, 10-2-1 overall. Cedarcrest 10-1-0, 12-1-0.
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