QUINCY, Mass. -- As the round of penalty kicks began, Watertown goalkeeper Greg Koutroukas walked off to the corner of the turf at Veterans Memorial Field, crouched, bowed his head, closed his eyes and softly prayed.
"I was just trying to get myself confidence," he said. "We practice these every day at practice, I knew I was bound to get one one more time."
In his first attempt, he read the Dover-Sherborn player leaning to the right, and guessed it would be a waist-high shot to the far post on his left side. He guessed correctly, slapped the ball away, then roared, making a few strides towards his fan section wagging his index finger.
And then, the emotional junior held on. He couldn't stop the next three D-S shots he faced, but his teammates picked up the slack, converting all five of their penalties to win the Division 3 Eastern Mass. championship, 2-1 (5-3), and move on to Saturday's state finals at Worcester State University.
"I'm in tears right now -- tears of joy," Koutroukas said.
It's uncharted territory for Watertown, which last got to the Eastern Mass. final in 1980. For head coach Frank Cacia, it's the fulfillment of some lofty expectations the team brought upon itself back in August.
"We walked into the gymnasium last night...One of our goals is to go undefeated at home, and we accomplished that," he said. "[But] one of our other goals is to get a banner. We practiced last night in the gym, we looked up at the banner and it said '1980 North Champions'. We wanted to come out here and make history."
Koutroukas came up with five saves in the 100 minutes of regulation and overtime, just as he did in last weekend's North final. And just like he's done all year, tonight was done with proper timing, hand speed, and a dash of swagger.
"And he's cool," Cacia said. "He looks like he's amped up, but he's cool as they come."
Cool, even after a gaffe by one of his teammates that allowed D-S back in the game. A corner kick by Walker Littlehale came into the box and brushed off the shoulder of Watertown's sweeper, allowing Peter Burton to get the equalizer.
But make no mistake, D-S was an aggressor throughout. They controlled the opening minutes of the contest, having two attempts at the doorstep turned away, but also fell victim to an own goal in the 25th minute, credited to sophomore striker Rafael De Souza but set up by a Vardan Yeghiyan shot to the far post.
Burton had arguably the best chance of the night, late in the second overtime, on a play built up from the back line. Burton took a soft through pass long into the box, but Koutroukas came off his line and stuffed him. The rebound went high above the crossbar.
Tough time for your first: After not allowing a goal all postseason, D-S comes up on the losing end, having outscored the opposition 20-1 in five games.
"Communication in our back four has been great for us," D-S head coach Joe Gruseck said. "Once we were solidifed and got guys back healthy -- [Steve] Aston sweeping, Perry [Fitz] stopping, Jackson [Szuch] and then Murph [Clarke Murphy] on the outside -- from our targets all the way back, they play as one.
"It's just unfortunate that all the hard work they put in, how well they played together, that they weren't able to reap the benefits of all that."
Comfortably Numb: Koutroukas described tears of joy in talking about his emotions after the game. Cacia had some different adjectives altogether.
"I'm numb right now," he said. "I'm a Watertown graduate myself...1989, and we were not very good. We had four coaches in four years. We haven't been here before, but you couldn't tell.
"I think they came together in the offseason. While I'm vacationing in Italy and relaxing on the Mediterranean, they're training five days a week, two hours a day. They're out there every day. So, hard work pays off."