SOUTH CHINA — It’s been said that the greatest gift is gold, and you won’t find anybody on the Maine Central Institute boys soccer team to dispute that.

Junior Devon Varney scored in the second overtime — the Golden Goal — to lift No. 11 MCI to a stunning 2-1 upset of No. 6 Erskine in a Class B North preliminary round game on Saturday afternoon.

Alec Jones’ cross from the left side skipped off Erskine goalkeeper David McGraw and left Varney with the easy finish in the 97th minute, setting up a match in the regional quarterfinals at Medomak Valley on Wednesday.

“The ground was really slippery, and I was just ready for it to bounce through the goalie or off the goalie, and I was just there and ready,” Varney said. “It’s really big. To upset a phenomenal team like Erskine, it means the world to us, it really does.”

After qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in a decade, by MCI head coach Scott Varney’s estimation, the Huskies could have been happy just to have an extra game on their schedule this season. And when Erskine striker Alex Cleaves converted a penalty kick in the 71st minute to tie the score at 1-1 and send the game off into extra time, MCI (7-5-3) could have been excused for believing that its Cinderella run might be over.

But, the coach confirmed, there was nothing but belief on the Huskies’ bench that they belonged on this stage.

“We’ve had some really good games this year and had some games where we’ve played really well and played teams tough,” Scott Varney said. “We knew we had the ability to compete with good teams and even beat them, so we felt really good coming in that if we played well and had a good day, we had a chance.”

One of those games most certainly was a season-opening draw against Erskine (9-4-2) in early September against an Eagles squad which had played for the Class B state championship last season. The Eagles underwent a rebuild this season, however, one that saw a roster dotted with underclassmen learn to play a more defensively-oriented game — relying on a five-back system which had conceded only one goal in total in its last seven games entering the playoffs.

MCI was able to find space to generate its attack just in front of those backs where other teams had not.

“We spent the last two days of practice working on just that,” Scott Varney said. “We knew we had to get the ball wide and spread them out. We knew we weren’t going to get our opportunities up the middle… It stuck, and I was glad to see they were able to execute that.”

Erskine coach Phil Hubbard said the Huskies’ reliance on long balls created problems defensively for his side.

“They don’t have a build up. They kick it up, and there’s three (forwards) up there,” Hubbard said. “It’s different from a Maranacook that builds up and you can hold your shape, versus a kick up. They kicked it up and found feet, they found Devon’s feet, and now we don’t have 11 guys behind the ball.”

After a physical, albeit scoreless, first half that saw both sides send numbers forward, MCI opened the scoring in the 48th minute off the foot of Nick Howard.

Caleb Romanov’s free kick from 40 yards out twice changed direction in traffic inside the 18-yard box, deflecting to Howard who was free to finish just inside the left post for a 1-0 advantage.

Faced with a deficit for the first time in weeks, the Eagles moved an extra man into the attack and began taking the play to the Huskies. In the 67th minute, Cleaves’ free kick from inside 20 yards was ticketed for the top corner but was turned aside by an outstanding diving save from Aidan Peacock, who made 10 of his 17 saves in the second half alone.

In the 71st minute, Erskine’s pressure finally paid dividends when Cleaves was hauled down from behind by Brayden Rollins inside the box for a penalty. Cleaves made little fuss of the spot kick, shooting left into a net left vacant by Peacock’s dive right.

Each team had a chance at winning in the first 15-minute overtime, but MCI’s Bryce Tuttle curled his shot over the crossbar in the 82nd minute and Erskine’s Nate Howard was thwarted by a miraculous tumbling Peacock save in the 91st.

“We’ve been snakebitten about finishing all season long. That’s why we went defensive,” Hubbard said. “We had opportunities to finish. I thought we could have had three or four goals. We made one mistake defensively, which has been unusual for us. That’s the nature of it. We told the kids, ‘It’s not going to end the world. It’s part of life. You can’t win everything.'”

To MCI’s credit, they didn’t pack it in once the game was back to even late in the second half. They continued to play their game, and it paid off with Varney’s Golden Goal.

“It’s absolutely a special day,” Scott Varney said. “For this group of seniors to come out and play like this and play for so long, it’s so rewarding for them. It’s a great victory.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC