The Community School Cutthroats had a score to settle Monday afternoon in their Fourth District 3A boys' soccer tournament second-round home game against Buhl.
But the Sun Valley faithful breathed a sigh of relief only at the final whistle of a thrilling battle filled with great defense and a succession of near misses for both teams.
Comfortable playing on their Browning Field pitch, the Cutthroats (8-7-2 overall, 5-1-2 home) outlasted defending league tournament champion Buhl by a 1-0 score. Junior midfielder Caleb Sonneland scored the game's only goal at eight minutes.
Sonneland persisted after a marvelous sequence started by a Wes Flanigan rocket-of-a-shot that smashed into the crossbar and eluded Travis Stone's rebound bid. The Cutthroats kept the ball in the zone with some great hustle and Sonneland drilled it high to the top shelf.
"Man of the Match: was Cutthroat sophomore forward Travis Stone, who teamed up with soph midfielder Connor Brown and senior Wes Flanigan to pressure the stubborn Buhl defense all game.
"Wes and Travis caused a bunch of problems," said Community School coach Richard Whitelaw. "Buhl is a good side—we knew we'd have our hands full. They gave us all we could handle. Both teams hit the crossbar and both teams hit the post."
But the Cutthroat defense backed by sweeper Ryon Campbell, Ross Campbell, Kevin Wade and Alex Conn was superlative for 80 minutes. They stopped every Tribe attack—and there were plenty of attacks led by Buhl's Jeremy Thomas, Miguel Maya and Martin Arizmendi.
Buhl coach Bill Fields said afterward, "The Cutthroats did a great job on defense. We put everybody we could up front, but their goalkeeper (Tyler Chandler) did a great job of getting in good position."
Chandler, a senior, made 16 saves. The Cutthroats out-shot Buhl 21-17, but Buhl had a 5-3 edge in corners.
It was the first Cutthroat win in three tries over Buhl dating back precisely one year to last year's league tournament, when Buhl stunned the top-seeded Cutthroats 3-1 at Browning Field and went on to capture the league 4-3 over Wendell.
That 3-1 Buhl victory combined with a subsequent 3-0 Cutthroat loss to Wendell snapped a string of five consecutive state tournament trips for Whitelaw's Sun Valley squads—including second-, third- and fourth-place finishes at state from 2001-03.
Although the Cutthroats earned some payback, revenge wasn't on their minds, coach Whitelaw said. "All we were thinking is that if we won, we were in the district final. We're starting to play well. I think these boys really want to go to state."
With Monday's triumph, the #2-seeded Cutthroats have advanced to the league championship game today, Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Bliss. Top-seeded Bliss (7-0-3 league) defeated #5-seeded Declo 4-2 Monday. Declo was a 1-0 double overtime upset winner over #4-seeded Wendell Saturday, the same day Buhl ousted Filer/Magic Valley Christian 6-1.
Bliss nipped The Community School 3-2 twice this season.
The winner of today's Community School-Bliss clash will automatically advance to the State 3A tournament Oct. 27 at the Capital Soccer Complex in west Boise.
Whichever team loses today's title game will have to play and win one more game to make state. That state play-in game scheduled for Friday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m. will match the loser of Bliss-Community School vs. the winner of today's elimination game between Buhl and Declo.
If Bliss continues its league dominance, it could be another rematch between the Cutthroats and #3-seeded Buhl Friday with a state berth at stake. In that case, the game would be played at the home field of the higher seeded team, which would be The Community School.
That's why Thursday's Browning Field regular-season finale between Buhl and the Cutthroats was so important. All the Cutthroats needed was a win or tie to edge out Buhl for the second seed, and Wes Flanigan's goal was the equalizer in a 1-1 tie. "Man of the Match" for Whitelaw was freshman defender Alex Conn.
It was a game that was very similar to Monday's terrific show as the recent Community School-Buhl rivalry continued to be the best in the league. Buhl coach Fields said, "It's been fun playing The Community School the last couple of years. They play fair. I think they respect us, and we certainly respect them."