Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tight soccer classic ends in 1-1 deadlock

Bliss, Community School battle in a beauty

Express Staff Writer

The game exceeded the hype.

In their highly-anticipated conference clash, The Community School and Bliss boys' varsity soccer teams played to a 1-1 tie Friday in front of a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd standing on its tiptoes at Browning Field so as not to miss a single play.

Sporting day-glo cleats and an equally flashy 8.6 goals per game scoring average, Bliss (7-0-1) had its strikers on the run from the opening whistle.

Bliss seniors Jovan Rojas and Eli Gough usually add up to a whole lot of trouble for opposing teams. Rojas has scored 25 goals in eight games this season and Gough has 17.

"They looked dangerous every time they came down the field," noted Cutthroat coach Richard Whitelaw.

But, thanks to the fine performance by Cutthroat goalie Regan O'Reilly, silky sprinter Rojas scored only one goal Friday. O'Reilly stood on his head, allowing the high-octane Bears only one goal on 13 shots.

"We usually score more than 13 goals a game. This is the toughest team we have faced so far," Bliss coach Daniel Knapp said about the host Cutthroats.

No slouch in the scoring department themselves, the Cutthroats are averaging 5.8 goals per game and allowing 1.3.

Under Friday's cool, cloudy skies, the teams cranked it up to a fever pitch. O'Reilly (9 saves, including a penalty kick) and his Bliss counterpart Michael Faulkner (12 saves) more than matched the adrenaline and athleticism up front.

After a scoreless first half, thanks to inspired defense on both sides, the Cutthroats knocked Bliss on its heels.

Cutthroat center midfielder Caleb Sonneland directed traffic while Tanner Flanigan, Connor Brown and Alden Remington unleashed cracking shots on net. Faulkner snagged them all with the predictability of jagged nails on panty hose.

Bliss' first opportunity on offense came on a free kick from the 35-yard line. Freshman Alex Cortez launched the ball toward the net and Rojas slipped under it, heading it in for a 1-0 Bliss advantage.

Perhaps sensing what Whitelaw told his team at halftime, "this game only has one goal in it," Knapp dropped into a 4-4-2 for more defensive support, but the Cutthroats kept on hammering with eight shots in the second stanza—twice what they had in the first half.

Whitelaw also made a few adjustments of his own, pushing Flanigan out to right wing, Wyatt Bunce up front and Ryon Campbell up to halfback, leaving Jackson Bates, Bergen Palmer and Alex Conn to man the defensive third, which they did doggedly belying their underclassmen status.

The 'Throats generated some good chances, but Faulkner rejected all that came his way. "We had our chances. Our finishing was not as good as usual," Whitelaw said.

Mirroring Bliss, Sun Valley's score came on a set play with six minutes remaining.

From just outside the box on the right side, Remington chipped a perfect ball over Faulkner's head from the far corner. Campbell's header insured the goal for a 1-1 game.

That's how is stayed, despite some late, strong Bliss chances.

"I was ready to write 2-1 down in the book. I thought it was over," Whitelaw said. "A tie was probably a fair result. Both teams played really well."

Knapp echoed the sentiment, adding, "The next one is going to be the Game of the Year."

The rematch for the regular-season league championship is Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Bliss—where the underdog Cutthroats upset #1-seeded Bliss 3-2 in overtime in last October's league tournament title game.

But the Cutthroats have another big game on the horizon with Wood River at home this Saturday, Sept. 23. The opening kick off is 4 p.m. in Sun Valley.

Also on tap in this busy week are home league games against Buhl today, Wednesday and against Declo Friday, Sept. 22 at Browning Field.

On Monday, the Cutthroats improved to 7-1-1 overall and 5-0-1 in league play with a 4-0 victory at Wendell. Leading scorer Travis Stone (15 goals) and Caleb Sonneland (7) each scored twice. Man of the Match was right back Bergen Palmer.

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