Prep boys soccer: St. Francis header leaves Denfeld heartbroken
St. Francis one-upped Duluth Denfeld on a free kick Thursday night, and because of it the Saints are headed to their first high school boys soccer state tournament in 25 years.
The Hunters appeared poised to repeat as Section 7A champions after Dante McDonald headed in Keegan Chastey’s perfect free-kick floater from 30-plus yards out to tie the game with just 1:34 to play.
But the Saints received their own free kick in the second overtime and Andy Christopherson headed Jack Russum’s 93rd-minute set piece past Denfeld goalkeeper Demetri Regas for the golden goal in a 3-2 victory at Ordean Stadium.
“It’s heartbreaking, very heartbreaking,” McDonald said afterward. “It sucks.”
Christopherson, a senior midfielder, felt the thrill of victory rather than the agony of defeat.
“It felt great,” he said. “I couldn’t see the ball when (Russum) kicked it so I thought I was going to be offside. I think I timed it perfectly and just went with it. Game-winner.”
St. Francis (14-4-1), seeded second in its first season in the section after dropping down from Class AA, heads to the Class A state quarterfinals next week against an opponent and at a site to be determined Saturday. The Saints’ only previous appearance came in 1994.
Fourth-seeded Denfeld (12-7-1) overcame two first-half goals by senior speedster Hunter Doherty in a two-minute span to make it exciting.
Chastey lofted a shot from distance over the outstretched hands of Saints goalie Justin Day with a minute to play in the first half to trim the gap to 2-1.
“That No. 7 (Doherty) has incredible speed and great moves,” Hunters coach Scott Anderson said. “Credit to my guys, too. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year and here we are. It’s a fantastic year all around.”
But with the Saints falling back into a defensive shell, the Hunters kept on the attack in the second half. Day made outstanding stops on a header by Decker in the penalty area and on a Chastey free kick with less than 10 minutes to play.
But it was the next Chastey free kick that gave Denfeld life. The junior midfielder spied McDonald and found him amid a sea of bodies.
“He’s a god with the ball, he’s so good,” McDonald said. “He knows where to find me. He knows I will jump up there as high as I can possibly get and head it toward the net.”
The goal gave the Hunters momentum heading into the 10-minute overtimes.
“I felt really good,” McDonald said. “I thought we’d score within the first five minutes.”
The Saints felt the season crumbling at that moment.
“That devastated us,” Christopherson said. “We were just trying to stick it out for the last couple of minutes and then that (goal) happened. We thought maybe they had the momentum and were going to win the game, but then we had to come back strong in the sudden death. We had to keep our focus on the game because we were all frustrated with ourselves. But we kept a positive mindset.”
They also changed their approach, going from a defensive strategy to an offensive one.
“We went back to an attacking formation and hoped it would open things up,” Saints coach Glenn Beggin explained. “It really didn’t right away, but it did level the field again instead of just sitting back on defense.”
Christopherson made the move pay off and sent the Saints marching on to their 12th consecutive victory.
Duluth Denfeld 1-1-0-0—2
St. Francis 2-0-0-1—3
First half — 1. SF, Hunter Doherty (Andy Christopherson), 31st minute; 2. SF, Doherty (Christopherson), 33rd; 3. DD, Keegan Chastey (Xavier Decker), 39th.
Second half — 4. DD, Dante McDonald (Chastey), 79th.
First overtime — No scoring.
Second overtime — 5. SF, Christopherson (Jack Russum), 93rd.
Goalies — Demetri Regas, DD, 9; Justin Day, SF, 7.