Cowichan LMG’s Dan Cato battles for the ball early in the first half of the Jackson Cup final at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Cowichan LMG’s Dan Cato battles for the ball early in the first half of the Jackson Cup final at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park on Sunday afternoon. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

LMG edged in epic Jackson Cup final

Nanaimo beats Cowichan LMG 2-1 in extra time

Cowichan LMG dug deep to force extra time in the Sir John Jackson Cup final against Nanaimo United FC on Sunday, but ended up thwarted in their bid for a third straight Vancouver Island soccer championship.

Joel Harry scored in the last second of injury time to tie the game at 1-1. Playing down a man for the last 17 minutes of regulation and the entirety of extra time, however, caught up with Cowichan, and Nanaimo took home their first Jackson Cup since 1999.

“We spent almost an hour playing without a man, and still outplayed those guys,” Cowichan head coach Glen Martin said. “I was really happy with how the team responded down a man and down a goal. It’s a lot to ask to be down a man for an hour and expect to win the game.”

Cowichan was making its seventh Jackson Cup final appearance in eight years, and looking for a fifth title in that time, but Nanaimo had other ideas. Cowichan got off to a slow start, and Nanaimo took advantage of it. In the 14th minute, the Cowichan defence let Nanaimo scoring leader Daragh Fitzgerald into the box on his own, and he made them pay.

Trailing 1-0 at halftime, Martin thought things might go his team’s way in the second half, with the wind at their backs. Cowichan pushed hard for the tying goal throughout the second half. Dan Cato earned his second yellow card of the match in the 73rd minute, costing the team not only a man, but one of their best players in the game.

Craig Gorman nearly tied the score a few minutes after Cato was ejected, hitting the crossbar so hard with a shot out of a scramble that he moved the net.

Things finally paid off in the dying seconds of the game. After a succession of corner kicks, Joel Harry headed in Cooper Barry’s blast. In desperation, Martin had pushed all his players, including goalkeeper Scott Brown, into the attacking zone, and Barry took the kick from the left side of the field because Tyler Hughes had just taken consecutive corners on the right side and didn’t have time to run across to the other corner.

Nanaimo speedster Niko Cristante broke past the LMG defence in the 109th minute and managed to beat Brown to score a goal that Cowichan just couldn’t battle back from.

“I’m not faulting the goalie on that one,” Martin said. “It was a defensive miscue.”

Knowing his team is loaded with guys who can bury the ball, Martin liked his team’s chances had they been able to get through extra time still tied.

“We were trying to get to penalty shots,” the coach said. “I like our chances in the shootout. We have five guys who are good at penalty kicks.”

Nanaimo hadn’t beaten Cowichan in seven years, Martin noted. Cowichan had won every meeting between the teams in that time except one that ended in a draw.

Martin was disappointed in the field conditions, pointing out that if the Jackson Cup final is supposed to showcase the two best teams in the Island, it deserves to be played on a better-quality pitch.

“They’ve got to change the venue or maintain the field we play on,” he said. “Change it to the UVic grass or make the city maintain the field. It’s not conducive to the best soccer.”

The season won’t end for LMG with Sunday’s defeat. The team still has the provincial tournament to play as they look for the one title that has continued to prove elusive.

“We want to get to the provincial finals,” Martin said. “We’ll move on really quick and get ready for our BC Cup game.”

The BC Cup draw takes place on April 13, and Cowichan will open the tournament with a home game on April 22. Based on the Jackson Cup final, Martin has one major takeaway he wants to deal with before then.

“We have to address how we prepare to start games,” he said.