By Jonathon Jackson
TORONTO, ON – One streak and two droughts came to an end on Sunday in OUA men's soccer at Birchmount Stadium – and each end resulted in gold medals for the Guelph Gryphons.
The underdog Gryphons erased an early deficit and beat the York Lions 3-1 to win the OUA championship and the Blackwood Cup. The Lions were the three-time defending conference champions, but their run at the top is over.
They've been replaced by the Gryphs, who went 3-0 in the playoffs to close the books on a title drought that had lasted 26 years. They hadn't won the crown since 1990.
And Sunday's win also marked the first time that Guelph has beaten York in any game in at least 10 years. Going back to 2006, the Lions had compiled a 0-21-2 record against the Gryphs, including two regular season victories this year and a quarter-final triumph in the 2015 playoffs.
Those dubious droughts and York's OUA streak are all history now. The Gryphs were already set to host the U Sports Canadian championship tournament later this week, but now they will do it as the Ontario champions.
Sunday's game didn't begin well for the underdogs. The Lions jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute as Milan Beader scooped in a loose ball after a corner kick. But this was the only ball that would get past Gryphs goalkeeper Benjamin Caranci all day.
The York lead did not last. Second-year striker Jace Kotsopoulos leveled the score in the 23rd minute, scoring a beautiful goal after weaving around a Lions defender.
Rookie midfielder Alexander Zis gave the Gryphs their first lead in extra time at the end of the first half, striking one from the edge of the box that eluded York keeper Andrew D'Souza and bounced in off the far post.
It was Zis who ended the scoring in the 55th minute, picking up the rebound from a shot by Tomasz Skublak and making no mistake with it.
Kotsopoulous had a glorious opportunity to make it 4-1 with a penalty kick in the 67th minute, but D'Souza made the save and kept his team alive.
The Lions tried to apply pressure as time ticked away, seeking to become the first team since the 1996-99 Western Mustangs to win four consecutive OUA championships. But the Gryphs defence was rock solid, working to deny scoring chances and also repeatedly sending the ball back down into the York zone.
The Lions, as OUA finalists, still have a berth in the U Sports tournament, where they are the two-time-defending national champs.
The Toronto Varsity Blues will be there too. They won OUA bronze by defeating the Ryerson Rams 2-1 earlier on Sunday at Birchmount Stadium.
The Gryphs had eliminated the Rams from title contention with a 3-0 semifinal win on Saturday. They also beat the McMaster Marauders 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
U Sports championship action at Alumni Stadium will begin with quarter-final matches on Thursday, Nov. 10. The Gryphons' first game is scheduled for 7 p.m. against an opponent yet to be determined.