PREP BOYS SOCCER / SECTION 7AA CHAMPIONSHIP / DULUTH EAST 4, BLAINE 1
After a nail-biting one-goal victory over Forest Lake in the Section 7AA semifinals, the Duluth East boys soccer team didn't want to leave anything to chance in the final.
No overtimes or shootouts are wanted this time of season.
So the top-ranked Greyhounds came out against Blaine and did what they do best: attack.
Leading scorers Will Francis and Seth Hoffman scored in the opening nine minutes and East controlled the game throughout, winning 4-1 and clinching a return trip to next week's Class AA state tournament.
"I'm not much for sitting back and waiting and letting a team come to me," first-year East coach Corey Bachand said. "I'm going to make them change their game and see what they got. I feel like we can take some chances early and see what happens. When we get a lead, we're a hard team to beat."
Francis, a senior forward, needed only 2 minutes, 14 seconds to score his single-season school-record 25th goal and extend his school-record career total as well. Hoffman, a Class AA Mr. Soccer finalist, recorded his 23rd assist of the season on the play.
"We just went out and played exactly how we always play; we didn't change anything," Francis said. "We went and tried to dominate the game, keep the ball the whole time and dominate the midfield."
Moments later, it was Hoffman striking off a teammate's through ball and beating goalkeeper Ben Greenberg for the midfielder's 13th goal of his senior season.
"I saw the goalie going one way, so I put it the other way," Hoffman said. "He got a hand on it, but luckily it went in."
The rout was on.
"If teams are going to pressure us, we're going to expose that," Bachand said. "We have good speed with Seth and Will, and they know to hit each other."
Senior midfielder Michael Reichhoff knocked in a loose ball off a corner kick in the 22nd minute and Hoffman nailed a sweet strike from the top of the penalty area in the opening minutes of the second half to end any drama, unlike the team's 1-0 semifinal win over Forest Lake.
"Against Forest Lake, they were in the game way too long, so we talked about coming out with energy and putting a few away early and giving them no hope," Hoffman said.
The Greyhounds (17-0-2), winners of 37 games the past two seasons, will find out later this week who, when and at what neutral site they will play a state quarterfinal. The semifinals and championship rounds will be held at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
"This is the greatest feeling ever," Francis said. "There's no better feeling than going to the state tournament."
East finished third a year ago, losing its semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium before rebounding to win its finale.
"We are excited to get back, but we want more than last year," Hoffman said. "We want to be No. 1."
That's exactly what the Greyhounds are ranked heading into the eight-team state field.
And it's where they expect to be ranked when the tournament ends Nov. 2.
"The big difference is we're more of a team and not so individual," Bachand said, comparing the 2017 version with the current one. "With that mentality that we have this year and the boys believing in each other a lot more and trusting each other, it's proven to work."
Duluth East 3-1-4
First half - 1. DE, Will Francis (Seth Hoffman), 3rd minute; 2. DE, Hoffman (Scott McInerney), 9th; 3. DE, Michael Reichhoff, 21st.
Second half - 4. DE, Hoffman (McInerney), 43rd; 5. B, Pablo Alfini, 45th.
Saves - Ben Greenberg, B, 19; Oliver Hasler, DE, 4.