High school sports don't get much better or intense than Tuesday's win-or-go-home soccer clash between the favored Wood River High School boys and the upset-minded Minico Spartans in Hailey.
Minico had 11 strong seniors and Wood River fielded 12 seniors. Nobody wanted to play their final game.
And there wasn't any scoring at all in an absolute cliffhanger before a large crowd of nervous soccer fans watching the Great Basin Conference West tournament battle at South Valley Sports Complex field.
Second-seeded Wood River (11-5-1) and #3-seeded Minico (5-14-2) battled ferociously for over 100 minutes including two 10-minute sudden death overtime periods—and came up empty. No goals. Scoreless tie.
Putting the outcome into a penalty kick shootout played right in the hands of Minico, which had lost 10 consecutive boys' soccer games to Wood River teams since 1998. Minico now trails 17-2 in the 19-game series and has been outscored 71-8 in their 17 losses to Wolverine teams. They've lost four this year and four last, totaling just four goals.
Minico had nothing to lose and everything to gain. "We played our best game today," Spartan coach Dennis Haynes said afterward.
Having seen her team pushed to the limit, Wood River coach Farrell Swain had a different view of Monday's cliffhanger in Hailey. "Are you kidding me, I said! Two days in a row! We could not put the ball in the back of the net," she groaned.
But coach Swain's Wolverines, playing their second double OT game in 24 hours and going into their second straight penalty kick shootout following Monday's excruciating loss at Burley, had some life left in their legs and their hearts.
Seniors Garrett Leo, co-captain Bryce Newcomb, Bill Dankanyin and finally, co-captain Spencer Cordovano made their penalty kicks and senior goalkeeper Jesse Stark stopped the final Minico shot attempt as Wood River prevailed 4-3.
That made the final official score 1-0 Wood River. The Wolverines earned second place in the conference for a second straight year and kept their season alive for two more days.
Cordovano's final kick and a tight Wolverine defense extended Wood River's state tournament quest, which continued Thursday with a intra-district loser-out playoff game against the Fifth District runner-up Century Diamondbacks at Burley.
"I've always wanted to shoot fifth in a shootout and there was no doubt in my mind that I would make it," said Cordovano, who scored Wood River's only regulation goal in Monday's 2-1 double OT shootout loss at Burley. "I figured the team needed it. There wasn't really an option other than to make the kick."
Her hands shaking slightly with sheer excitement, coach Swain was swayed by Cordovano's confidence when she made out her list of five shooters for the best-of-five penalty kick shootout contest.
The coach elected to switch up her list compared to Monday at Burley, when Wood River didn't make a kick in its 3-0 PK shootout loss to the Bobcats. She started trusty Garrett Leo as the first shooter. And she installed Cordovano as the fifth and final shooter.
"I started Garrett because I knew he would make it," said Swain. "Then Audie (Austin McCann), Bryce (Newcomb) and Bill (Dankanyin) were in the same order as Burley."
When it came to a fifth shooter, well, Wood River never got there at Burley and Cordovano hadn't been available since he had drawn a soft red card. For Swain's fifth shooter against Minico, Cordovano volunteered. Swain said, "He told me, coach I guarantee I will score."
Leo, who beat the same Minico team Saturday with a 47-yard free kick at game's end for a 3-2 Wolverine victory, blasted the first kick top shelf to the right of Spartan keeper and co-captain Josh Lloyd.
Although he sat out 15 minutes in the first part of the second half with a minor injury, Minico keeper Lloyd (20 saves) had been considerably busier than Wood River senior goalkeeper Jesse Stark (4 saves). But Stark was ready for the challenge
Stark said afterward, "It was nerve-wracking, but the team helped me and gave me a lot of confidence."
Minico's first shooter, junior Alberto Santana, made his kick low into the corner to the right of Stark. Then Wood River's McCann blasted his shot wide and to Lloyd's left. Minico crept ahead 2-1 when senior Mark Lloyd went low to Stark's right.
Bryce Newcomb ripped his shot into the strings for a 2-2 tie, but junior Philip Toolson kept the Spartans ahead with a top shelf dagger, again to Stark's right. Fortunately for Hailey, Dankanyin drilled his shot low and good for a 3-3 tie.
Stark, by this time, had a pretty good idea of where Minico was aiming—to his right. So as one of the best Spartan players, senior Dallas Garner, was lining up the fourth PK, Stark cheated with great stealth to his right. He admitted he was guessing where Garner was going. Garner shot off the crossbar, no good.
The missed shot gave Wood River new life, and Cordovano gave the Wolverines a 4-3 lead with a purposeful boot into the corner. Up to the line stepped Minico's senior co-captain Colton Douglass with the game on the line, and Stark started thinking on the opposite track.
Stark said, "It looked like he was going to shoot to my left and I was thinking about going that way, but he seemed to mess up a little with the ball and finally kicked it to my right. I dove back and got a hand on it, then it bounced off me and the ball started spinning back toward the goal line like it was going in. I never lost sight of it and dove on it before it could spin back over the line."
That was the difference between victory and defeat—and Stark was mobbed by his teammates and fans.
"It's a game of inches," said disappointed Minico coach Haynes. "And the whole outcome could have easily been the other way. But I'm proud of my team. They left everything on the field. It's a great accomplishment for us to compete like that with a great soccer program like Wood River's."
For the record Wood River dominated for most of the game, although Minico came on strong in the second half. Playing with the wind at their backs the Wolverines outshot the Spartans 17-0 with a 7-1 advantage in corner kicks in the first half. For the game Wood River outshot Minico 31-9 (16-5 corners).
Keeper Lloyd of Minico was outstanding, making a great diving stop on Spencer Flade's bid late in the first half. McCann had a number of well-executed headers that sailed just wide, Travis Amick sparked the attack with several near-misses in the second half, and Cordovano had two of his shots carom off the crossbar.
One of Swain's key decisions was moving Cordovano back from the forward line to left midfield. From the get-go against Minico he hustled end-to-end, as Swain described, tracking back and creating width for the Hailey attack. He built his own confidence. It ultimately paid off.
Cordovano said, "Even though we lost at Burley Monday, we controlled a lot of the play there, just like we did today (against Minico). But nobody got their heads down about it. I guess you could say that we had a little practice with penalty kicks and we finally put it together."
Added coach Swain about her team, "They really stepped it up and really wanted it."
Thursday's Century game was the first match-up between the Wolverines and Diamondbacks all season, since their two scheduled games were canceled by mutual decision.
The winner of yesterday's Wood River-Century game will compete Saturday, Oct. 22 at 2:30 p.m. at Highland High School in Pocatello against the Sixth District runner-up in a penultimate state play-in game.
By winning Thursday and Saturday, Wood River would earn a first-round State 4A match-up against the Boise-area champion Oct. 27. That will probably be #2-ranked Nampa or #3-ranked Skyview, based on the result of their title game Thursday.