MUKILTEO — The third time was the charm for the Kamiak High School boys soccer team.
After losing a pair of winner-to-state matches earlier in the week, the Knights broke through Saturday afternoon and punched their ticket to state.
But not without another high-drama affair.
No. 2-seeded Kamiak surrendered a tying goal in the closing minutes of regulation, but rebounded to beat seventh-seeded Redmond 4-2 in penalty kicks to earn a 2-1 victory in the winner-to-state, loser-out Class 4A District 1/2 Tournament fifth-place match.
“They showed great heart through the game and were able to compose themselves in front of the goal 12 yards away and put some away,” Kamiak coach Kosta Pitharoulis said. “It (was) pretty fantastic.”
The Knights held a 1-0 lead most of the way after junior forward Koll Pehlivanian netted a seventh-minute goal and senior goalkeeper Weston Joyner made a handful of big-time saves throughout the match.
But with Kamiak (10-6-3) just minutes away from sealing the victory in in regulation, Redmond struck with a late equalizer.
Senior forward Jacob Martin received a left-to-right cross near the top of the box and fired a left-footed strike through traffic, sending the ball soaring past a diving Joyner and into the upper-left portion of the net for a match-tying 78th-minute goal.
It set up the possibility of another heartbreak for the Wesco 4A champion Knights, who were just two days removed from an agonizing 3-2 sudden-death overtime loss to Bothell after giving up a penalty kick in extra time.
But amid the adversity, Kamiak remained composed.
“I think it’s helpful to have a coach that can just calm us down,” Pehlivanian said. “We’ve been in that situation a couple times this season, and we really have a team that can come back. … So we always believe in each other, and I don’t think there was ever a doubt that we were gonna win.”
After the late goal by Redmond (9-8), the teams played to a pair of scoreless five-minute overtime periods to send the match to a shootout.
Pitharoulis said his Knights had been practicing penalty kicks for the past couple of weeks. And when it came time Saturday to determine who would take the them, he let his players decide.
“If they’re feeling confident and good about it and they want to step up and have a kick, I like that,” Pitharoulis said. “So they actually raised their hands and they put themselves in that position.”
Kamiak made all four of its penalty kicks. Pehlivanian got it started for the Knights and seniors Benjamin Webb, Michael Fortier and Blake Stevens followed suit, each confidently sending a shot past Redmond’s keeper.
And after the Mustangs made their first two penalties, Joyner came up with a big save on Redmond’s third attempt. Joyner said he gained some insight by watching Redmond’s warmups before the match.
“That kid who I saved, he did that same exact penalty in warmups,” Joyner said. “So I was like, ‘I know where he’s going. I know how this is gonna be.’ So I just went that way, trusted my gut and stuck with it.”
Needing a make to keep the shootout alive, the Mustangs then fired their fourth penalty kick off the left post. That sent Kamiak’s players sprinting from midfield toward Joyner, who they mobbed in a frenzied celebration.
The victory gave the Knights their first state berth since 2017.
“We showed who we were and stuck it out to the end,” Joyner said. “… I’m proud of everyone on this team.”
Pehlivanian’s early goal came off a nice buildup that included a well-placed through ball from senior Aidan Drought down the right side of the pitch. After receiving the ball, Pehlivanian took one dribble and fired a near-post missile into the roof of the net to give Kamiak an early 1-0 lead.
“It was a fantastic shot,” Pitharoulis said. “It had a lot of velocity on it too, so it gave the goalie some trouble there. … The whole buildup actually from the back to midfield to Aiden to the through ball — it was fantastic. So it was a good overall play by everybody.”
Over the next 70 minutes, Joyner was instrumental in preserving the Knights’ one-goal lead. The tall goalkeeper made several tough saves — including a diving stop from just a few feet away in the 49th minute, a quick-reflex catch from short range in the 65th and a one-handed deflection over the crossbar of a dangerous on-target header in the 70th.
“He made some incredible saves,” Pitharoulis said. “… My rule of thumb for goalkeepers is to make all the routine ones and one spectacular one a game. He happened to make three spectacular ones.”
After capturing the Wesco 4A crown, Kamiak entered the bi-district tournament with a bye into the semifinals and three chances to secure a state trip.
The Knights lost in their first chances to do so, falling 3-1 to third-seeded Skyline in their bi-district opener on Tuesday and then suffering their heartbreaking overtime defeat to ninth-seeded Bothell on Thursday.
But even after giving up the last-minute equalizer in regulation Saturday, Kamiak persevered through it all and found a way to reach state.
“For these guys to have an opportunity to go to state, it’s a special thing that you don’t get to do every year,” Pitharoulis said. “So that’s exciting for them and something that I hope they will remember for a lifetime.”