Community School parents and fans serenaded longtime coach Richard Whitelaw with a “Happy Birthday” medley after Wednesday’s thrilling 1-0 Cut-throat win over Wendell in the High Desert Soccer Conference championship.
Only the Cutthroat boys themselves were more excited than 23rd-year coach Whitelaw, who reached the birthday speed limit of 55 with what was a game for the ages—his 257th coaching win and one of the most satisfying.
Sophomore Johnny Black-burn zoomed in discreetly from a scramble in the box to poke home the game-winning goal in the 72nd minute giving the Cut-throats their second straight state tournament berth and third in four years.
“It feels great,” said Whitelaw, blowing out the can-dles on the first Cutthroat league tournament title since 2007 at Elkhorn’s Browning Field. “I’m glad that it’s over!”
That was the feeling of what Whitelaw called a capacity crowd of soccer supporters watching “two good teams” battling for every inch and every ball over 80 minutes of championship soccer at Elk-horn’s Browning Field.
It was nervy. It was nailbit-ing. And it ended brilliantly for Blackburn (11 goals season, 20 career) and the Cutthroats (14-3-1), now unbeaten in eight straight games with a 40-1 goals-against since a 2-1 home loss to Wendell Sept. 15.
“Play to the whistle!” shouted Cutthroat junior mid-fielder Tom Gillespie to his mates as time ticked away. Seconds later, the game ended with the 11th Cutthroat shutout of 2014.
Whitelaw’s “Men of the Match” were Blackburn and senior goalkeeper Willis San-chez-duPont (7 saves).
It might as well have been the unyielding defense of sen-ior captain Jack Swanson, sen-ior Trenor Gould and junior Garrett Rawlings.
“They were all superb at the back,” said Whitelaw. “We de-fended in style. Wendell could be still out there now playing and would still not score!” And that’s saying something, with the scoring threats offered by Wendell senior Jorge Valera and the left-footed artillery of senior Jose Alfredo-Barajas.
Gillespie wasn’t totally sur-prised by the outcome. He said, “I could tell during the (school) day. We had a meeting and eve-rybody was fired up. We knew what we had to do.”
Nobody scored in the first half of a game during which the Cutthroats, a team that thrives on set plays, didn’t have a cor-ner kick at all.
They did have 11 free kicks compared to Wendell’s seven, and many of those were taken by Swanson—who provided test after test with rainbows falling on the Trojan goal.
There were challenges every second of the memorable game. Yet it was hard breaking down a fine Wendell senior-class de-fense of Edgar Rodriguez, Jose Villaycana, captain Durk Deel-stra and Luis Fernando Miramontes.
Whitelaw said, “I told the boys at half there would be only one goal in this game. I told them we’ve just got to keep playing.”
Leading Cutthroat scorer Jay Fitzgerald didn’t have many good looks, so he helped out by checking back to help the defense. Doing so enabled Fitzgerald to send the ball ahead to Gillespie in the 72nd minute of a scoreless contest.
Gillespie controlled, maneu-vered away from two defenders and sent the ball into the mid-dle, where senior Tanner Josey gathered it—surrounded by Trojans. How did the game winner happen?
“I don’t know,” said Josey. “I kicked it, the goalie got it, it popped back out, I hit it again, I got tangled up, it popped back out, and Johnny put it in.
Certainly there was some question who scored. In the jubiliant post-game huddle, one Cutthroat even yelled, “Who got that goal?” And the answer came, “Johnny B!”
Gillespie, hard-running pro-prietor of the left flank, said, “I always know where my boys are in the box. I’ve just got to get the ball there.
“It was a great play by Tan-ner and Johnny to follow up that shot after the goalie mis-handled it.”
“Traditionally we always lose on my birthday,” said Whitelaw. But not this time. Not with this Cutthroat team.
Next Cutthroat game is Thursday, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. at SunWay Soccer Complex in Twin Falls in the first round of the eight-team State 3A tour-nament. Wendell (11-1-3) must play two-time defending state champion Gooding (9-6-2) on Friday for the second state berth from the league.