Northwestern’s girls soccer team equalized against Kokomo with just 32 seconds left on the clock. The Wildkats had blown a two-goal lead over the final 23 minutes of regulation and by all expectation, should have been feeling down when overtime began.

Turns out, giving up the lead was exactly what Kokomo needed to get going.

The Wildkats struck back with a pair of goals in the first seven-minute overtime session and went on to win 4-2 in the opening game of the IHSAA Kokomo Girls Soccer Sectional Monday night. They overturned a regular-season loss to Northwestern and lived on to play in Thursday’s semifinals against Manchester, which beat Peru 2-0 In Monday’s nightcap.

“We were told never to let down,” Kokomo midfielder Brittney Hildebrand said of her squad’s mood as they went into overtime tied 2-2. “[Northwestern’s goal] just made us even more angry. We got a little bit more fire in us.”

The Kats (8-8) struck quickly in overtime when defender Mary Lang got a hold of a loose ball after a corner kick and slammed a shot home with less than 90 seconds gone in the bonus session. Four minutes later, Hildebrand put the Tigers away with her second goal of the night. She found herself with space to shoot 22 yards out and smashed a shot in off the left post for the final margin.

“I was glad to see us keep fighting,” Kokomo coach Myles Geary said. “These Tigers are tough. I was absolutely amazed to see what our girls did, especially in the overtime period.”

Geary called it “a phenomenal Kokomo-Northwestern game” and was relieved to have won. During most of regulation, the game was one-way traffic toward the Kokomo goal.

“That first half, we were on our back heels the whole time,” he said. Kokomo led 1-0 at halftime thanks to a goal from forward Casey Connor off a long feed from Hildebrand in the 26th minute. “Up until that point, we were on our backs the whole time and I don’t think we knew what we were going to do to get out of that situation.”

Kokomo doubled its lead in the 56th minute when Hildebrand placed a looping shot from about 28 yards out that was well out of the reach of Northwestern goalie Shelby Bogue. Ciara Johnson assisted the goal.

Northwestern (13-4) put Kokomo goalie Kristen Clason under constant pressure and finally broke through when midfielder Annelise Tarkington cranked a shot just off the hands of a diving Clason in the 58th minute. After another period of heavy pressure, Northwestern equalized with 32 seconds left when Sarah Lubben slid a short pass to attacker Kayla Priday to score deep inside the box.

“I think we dominated, at least the first half,” NW coach Paul Crook said. “It was a great game really, both teams played very well. Getting that equalizer I think was well deserved right at the end, but I think we’d probably spent our energy. I think we looked pretty tired.”

Crook said it was hard to get in position to threaten Clason because shots from distance just won’t get past her. She was forced into 10 saves.

“Clason was amazing,” Hildebrand said. “She’s a goddess. She really is.”

Despite the loss, Crook was happy with how his Tigers played.

“The main thing is it was a great game,” he said. “We went out in style I think.”

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