When you fall behind 2-0 in an important soccer game and seem to be sleepwalking out on the field, what do you do? "One goal at a time and do something to get back in the game."
That's what Community School boys' coach Richard Whitelaw told his Cutthroats during halftime of Wednesday's Fourth District 3A tournament championship game at Bliss.
Everybody listened. And two sophomores showed the way.
Sophomores Travis Stone and Connor Brown equalized for the Cutthroats in the second half, then senior top scorer Wes Flanigan took an absolutely perfect lead pass from Stone and chipped home the game winner five minutes into the first 10-minute sudden death overtime stanza.
The #2-seeded Cutthroats (9-7-2), unbeaten in their last four games, captured the district championship over top-seeded previously unbeaten Bliss. The Sun Valley boys earned an automatic berth in the State 3A tourney Oct. 27 at the Capital Soccer Complex in west Boise.
Delighted to emerge with a win on a tough field, the Cutthroats piled on each other afterward in a scene reminiscent of two years ago, when The Community School beat Bonners Ferry 4-3 in overtime at the Buhl state tournament and made the State 3A title game.
They ran through a tunnel of parents and fans after the sudden end of the terrific comeback. Whitelaw thought back to similar tough wins and losses—3-2 heartbreakers to Payette at state, and the 4-3 Bonners Ferry win. But there was a difference.
In all those games, the Cutthroats squandered two-goal leads. Wednesday against Bliss, the Cutthroats (four freshmen, six sophs, four juniors, four seniors) courageously erased a two-goal deficit and attained their goal of returning to state after falling short in 2004.
"What a good team effort! Good for them! You've always got to keep playing, whatever the score," said Whitelaw. "I feel sorry for Bliss—it was the first game they've lost all year. Our defense was solid again."
But the defense was shellshocked in the early going.
Bliss' top scorer Eli Gough (20 goals), a junior, tallied two goals in the first 14 minutes Wednesday—the first on a nice throw-in by Joseph Huxhold, and the second on a rebound of a hard shot by teammate Jovan Rojas (17 goals).
Although the teams shot evenly 10-10 in the first half and goalkeepers Tyler Chandler of Sun Valley and Michael Faulkner of Bliss each made 8 saves, the play favored Bliss. Most of the Cutthroat shots were long ones. There was a ton of pressure on the Cutthroat defense.
Give credit to the Sun Valley blue-and-white curtain of sweeper Ryon Campbell, backs Ross Campbell, Alex Conn and Kevin Wade. They hung tough and weathered the Bliss storm.
Trailing 2-0 at half, Whitelaw changed strategy to jump-start the Cutthroat offense. "I moved Ryon Campbell up to the midfield leaving three in the back. We wanted to go for the win. And we did dominate the second half," he said.
Indeed, the Cutthroats out-shot Bliss 11-5 after half and had a 4-1 edge in corner kicks. Right midfielder Spencer Harris, another sophomore, sparked Sun Valley with his hustle on the right side. Then Harris dropped back to right back when Wade was sidelined with a whacked knee.
Junior midfielder Caleb Sonneland had a bunch of testing free kicks, but the first goal came on a pure build-up.
Starting on a pass from Ross Campbell, the play went to Max Harris—who had just entered the game—and then to Alden Remington. Remington served it to Travis Stone, who streaked down the left side and stuck it low into the net at 55 minutes. It was Stone's 14th goal.
There is no player who does as much for The Community School team, and does it so quietly, as Connor Brown. But Brown went out with a bumped knee in the first half and didn't come back full time until midway through the second half.
"It was a 50-50 ball and I got kicked in the knee. But I had to suck it up because we wanted to go to state," Brown said.
The Cutthroats kept applying pressure—Wes Flanigan having a couple of close calls in front of the Bliss net—and then with only eight minutes left in regulation, Ryon Campbell started the game-tying play.
He passed to Remington, who somehow got the ball in the middle of the goal area. Connor Brown stood quietly there, and he just kicked it into the goal with his left foot.
Said Brown, in a quote his father David later called the direct opposite of spin, "I sat there on the goal, and shot it, and I thought the goalie got it at first, and then it went in. And I was amazed!"
It was Brown's second goal of the season, and fourth of his career, but his first ever in such a tight spot.
The final moments of regulation were hair-raising, particularly when Bliss threat Gough charged toward the goal and inadvertently kicked goalkeeper Chandler (15 saves) in the face. Chandler was woozy and had to go to the sideline.
But Chandler came back in to make a fabulous save on a line drive by Lalo of Bliss to send the game into overtime.
Five minutes into overtime Stone got the ball on the left wing and saw Flanigan streaking past two Bliss defenders. Stone's lead pass was right on the money. Flanigan (18 goals) didn't get off his best shot, but the ball went past Bliss goalkeeper Faulkner (12 saves) ending the great game.
The Cutthroats will play the eastern Idaho playoff runner-up in the first round of the State 3A tournament Oct. 27. Meanwhile, Bliss (8-1-3) hosts Buhl (7-5-1) today, Friday to determine the district's second state berth for the Boise meet.