Prep boys soccer: Second half haunts 'Hounds
MINNEAPOLIS — Similar to those Halloween horror movies where the unwitting protagonist walks into an unlit room of a haunted house and the audience can see the slasher peering at him menacingly from behind, the Duluth East boys soccer team walked into a trap set by Stillwater Area, Monday's opponent in the Class AA state tournament semifinals.
After a dream start that saw Seth Hoffman convert a penalty kick in the opening half-minute, the second half turned into the Greyhounds' own Nightmare on Fourth Street.
Stillwater scored four times in a 14-minute span of the second half to beat East 5-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The defending champion Ponies (18-1-2) will face Wayzata, a 6-2 winner over Maple Grove, in Thursday's championship game in a rematch of last year's final.
Third-ranked East (19-2), which had its 10-game winning streak snapped, will meet the Crimson (16-2-2) in the third-place game at 4 p.m. today at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"Stillwater's an all-around good team," Hoffman said. "They have 11 good players on the field and play their position well. They've been here before and we haven't been here before, so they know what's it like. They know the atmosphere and they were ready to go and defend that title. We just couldn't handle it this time."
That wasn't the case in the first minute, however, as senior midfielder Nolan Friday was bundled over in the penalty area by a Ponies defender.
Hoffman calmly stepped up and put his shot to the left of goalkeeper Fred LeClair for a 1-0 lead at the 25-second mark. It was Hoffman's team-best 16th goal of the season and the first Stillwater had allowed since September after a run of five consecutive shutouts.
The Ponies weren't rattled by the early deficit.
"We needed to calm down and refocus, continue to play our game," Stillwater coach Jake Smothers said. "If there's a positive for something to come out of that, it was that it was 25 seconds into the game. It gave us plenty of time to recover."
It didn't take long as Ponies striker Jorge Malon tied the game at 1-1 in the 13th minute when he converted a pass from Maxwell Timmons.
Despite having few offensive chances, East kept the game deadlocked into the second half.
"We were hoping to carry that momentum over into the second half," Greyhounds coach Nick Bremer said. "I thought we came out OK right away in the second half, but (Stillwater) found another gear and was able to create a number of scoring opportunities."
Unlike in the Class AA quarterfinal, when Hoffman scored in the first minute of the second half for the game's lone goal against Lakeville North, Stillwater took control in the final 40 minutes.
"We've been a second-half team all year and we usually are the team that comes out and gets a goal, but it backfired this time," Hoffman said. "They got it first and it kept rolling, and we couldn't stop the snowball."
Smothers says his team practiced attacking East's right side of the defense, and that's what junior Spencer Scott did when he drew defenders to him and played a nice touch pass to Max Stauffer on the left wing. The junior midfielder beat Matthew Campbell for the winning goal in the 49th minute.
"I was able to get by one guy and saw a gap in between two defenders," Scott said. "Coaches are always telling us run to the gap and make the defenders figure out which guy goes after you, and in doing that they both closed in on me and I was able to pass it over to Max, who finished nicely."
That opened the floodgates as Timmons converted on a breakaway off a Malon through ball minutes later when his shot deflected off Campbell's hands and into the back of the net.
Just 66 seconds later, Jack Boucher scored unassisted for a 4-1 lead. Scott then beat an onrushing Campbell for the final goal in the 62nd minute.
"After their second goal, we started pressing and sending balls up the middle and hoping something would scoot through," Bremer said. "But that's really their strongest suit, playing in the middle of the field. That was the biggest difference between the first and second halves."
Duluth East 1-0—1
Stillwater Area 1-4—5
First half — 1. DE, Seth Hoffman, 1st (pk); 2. SA, Jorge Malon (Maxwell Timmons), 13th.
Second half — 3. SA, Max Stauffer (Spencer Scott), 49th; 4. SA, Timmons (Malon), 53rd; 5. SA, Jack Boucher, 55th; 6. SA, Scott (Stauffer), 62nd.
Saves — Matthew Campbell, DE, 1; Fred LeClair, SA, 4.