The biggest stage can create the unlikeliest of heroes.
Eric Suarez didn't start the opening match of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament for Prairie State, but he sure finished it.
The sub took a beautiful pass from Mohamed Elshafie and hit a rocket into the back of the net past a diving St. Charles keeper with just under seven minutes to go in the contest propelling the Pioneers to a 2-1 victory on Sunday in Witchita, Kansas.
"For the first half, I didn't get to play but I came in the second half with a positive mind. I had to try my hardest and show him that I could do what I need to do on the field," Suarez said. "It was a beautiful experience to score and put us in the lead."
Suarez was excited about the biggest moment of his Prairie State career, but he was quick to credit Elshafie who made the run to set up the goal.
"It was supposed to be Mohamed's goal. I saw Mohamed taking everything, everybody with him. It was supposed to be his goal," Suarez said. "He didn't get the shot off and I didn't hear the whistle. Then I just gave it a shot, put it to the corner and it went in."
Early in the contest it didn't appear, the Pioneers (10-1-1) would need Suarez's heroics. Prairie State dominated much of the first half getting a goal from one of its usual suspects Antonio Leal. The All-American hit a blast past the St. Charles keeper to get the Pioneers on the board in the 39th minute. The goal was his 16th this season.
Prairie State had several golden opportunities but was unable to extend the lead, and it nearly cost them. St. Charles put the pressure on early in the second half, finally getting the equalizer in the 70th minute.
However, there was no panic from the Pioneers. The Cougars' goal only set the stage for Suarez's historic 83rd minute goal.
It is the first national tournament win in program history for the Pioneers. With a win Monday over No. 2 CCBC-Essex (MD), Prairie State would win its group and advance to the national semifinals for the first time in program history.
The game will be streamed on the NJCAA Network and live tweeted (@PSCPioneers). Facebook page (Prairie State Athletics) will also be regularly updated.
1 St. Charles Community College (12-4-1, 2-2)
2 Prairie State College (9-1-1, 6-0)