After only conceding four goals in 12 regular-season matches, AFC Ann Arbor uncharacteristically coughed up three in 45 minutes Saturday.
Those defensive lapses came back to haunt Ann Arbor, which eventually crashed out to Duluth FC, 4-3, on penalty kicks in the National Premier Soccer League Midwest Regional final at Ann Arbor Huron High.
The Mighty Oak valiantly fought back from a 3-1 deficit, highlighted by Azaad Liadi's last-ditch leveler in the 94th minute of stoppage time. The game was settled on spot kicks after the teams finished 3-3 after 120 minutes.
"The game should have never come to (penalty kicks)," said Ann Arbor coach Eric Rudland whose team dominated possession and had shots hit the crossbar twice and goalpost once in regulation.
"Obviously, we've only given away only four goals all season in league play. The nature of the goals we gave away was pretty disappointing in the first half."
Chris Odhiambo (23') and Jack Cawley (42') also scored in regulation for Ann Arbor, which lost in last year's Midwest Regional final to Detroit City FC.
Ryan Tyrer (12') and Kyle Farrar (39') had goals for Duluth FC, which also benefited from an Ann Arbor own goal when Joe Watt's cross deflected off Cawley's heel and past goalkeeper Nick Barry less than a minute after Odhiambo's header had leveled it 1-1.
Duluth FC's Liam Moore converted the deciding spot kick. Duluth goalkeeper Alberto Ciroi, who came on late in extra time for NPSL all-conference starter Jan Hoffelner, saved PK attempts from Ann Arbor's Matt Braem and Michael Shaikly.
Barry stopped one PK from Duluth's Cori Hill.
Duluth, which defeated Minneapolis City 2-1 in extra time in Friday's semifinal, advances to the NPSL national finals.
The northern Minnesota club appeared content to play for penalty kicks, absorbing Ann Arbor's attack and feeling — perhaps for good reason — luck was on its side.
Duluth's third goal came off a misplayed back pass that pinballed its way to Farrar, who easily slotted it home.
"The third goal, we give away a back pass that went right to them and they walked it in to score, which again is extremely fluky," Rudland said. "You give away a set piece goal, an own goal, and an errant back pass.
"Then you're thinking, 'All right, maybe it's not going to be our night here.'"
Cawley and Shaikly both hit the crossbar while the Mighty Oak's British captain also rang a shot off the post in the 62nd minute.
Cawley's glancing header found the back of the net to pull Ann Arbor within one, 3-2. Forward Alec Lasinski's knifing free kick to the near post set up the goal.
Lasinski, who came on as a sub in Friday's 1-0 semifinal win over Cleveland, was a force throughout the match.
"He was everywhere for us," Rudland said.