EDMONTON - Fifth-year Pandas striker Karissa McNutt scored twice, including the game-winner in the 89th minute, as the Alberta Pandas defeated the MacEwan Griffins 2-1 in their conference quarter-final match at Foote Field on Sunday.
McNutt scored her first in the 76th, which seemed destined to be the game-winner. MacEwan, however, tied the game in the 83rd off the foot of Salma Kamel, before McNutt finished the wild final 10 minutes with her second in the 89th.
“One of the great things this season is that we’re quite deep." said Pandas head coach Liz Jepsen. "Karissa has started for us, and today she came in off the bench and did the job she needed to do – played great defence and got to net and scored a really impressive goal.”
With the win, the Pandas advance to the Canada West Final Four for the first time since 2014. Alberta will play the Pacific-division leading Trinity Western Spartans, while UBC and Calgary will clash in the other semifinal. The win also avenges the loss Alberta had to MacEwan in the 2017 conference quarter-final, also at Foote Field.
Neither team generated many great scoring chances in the opening half, with the host Pandas holding on to a majority of the possession. Alberta led on the shot clock 12-6 after the first 45, with the teams combining for just seven shots on target.
The shots that did find the target were also turned aside with relative ease by the respective keepers. Griffin starter Emily Burns made four saves, while Pandas keeper Rebecca Reif made three.
The lack of offensive flair spewed into the second half, with both teams struggling to gain momentum in the other teams side.
That changed late in the second, as the teams combined for all three goals in 13 minutes.
McNutt opened the scoring with an absolute rocket, beating Burns from 20 yards out on a ball that found the far corner.
Pressing for the equalizer, Kamel beat Reif from in tight, scoring her second goal of the playoffs after also finding the net in their play-in-game win over Regina.
With the game heading into the dying minutes, it seemed the two cross-town rivals would need extra time for a second-straight season. However, McNutt took a ball deep in MacEwan territory off a feed from Kate Dunn, firing a shot that ricocheted off a Griffin defender, and past a helpless Burns.
The Griffins final two chances off corner kicks were cleared away from harm, as they were unable to tie the game in stoppage time.
“I’m really proud of the effort they had. They never let down and pressed to the end and executed the game plan.” said Jepsen. “We’re focused on trying to get to nationals. That’s the importance of this game. It’s one of three to get to nationals.”
The Pandas and Spartans semifinal match is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. MST on Friday afternoon in Langley, B.C.