LINDSTROM, Minn. - Will Francis' father, Chris, has been logging plenty of frequent-flying miles between Cincinnati and Duluth during the high school boys soccer season.
With Duluth East undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the state and Will Francis among the state's leading goal-scorers, it's been a labor of love for Chris Francis, who for the past year has been the Chief Operating Officer at the YMCA in Cincinnati.
His son delayed moving to Union, Ky., with the rest of the family to try and guide the Greyhounds to a state championship.
Francis scored two second-half goals as East (18-0-2) moved a step closer to realizing that dream Thursday night with a 4-2 victory over unseeded Centennial in a Class AA state tournament quarterfinal at Chisago Lakes Area High School.
With his father arriving shortly before game time and more relatives coming in from Green Bay, Francis said the night was memorable.
"It was extra, extra special," he said. "This is the greatest thing in the world. We're going to the (U.S.) Bank (Stadium); we've got two games to go. We're trying to win two more and be state champs like we want."
Francis lifted a shot to the far left corner of the Centennial goal 7:12 into the second half to give East a 3-1 lead and then scored again with 18 minutes to play after the Cougars (15-4-1) had narrowed the gap to one.
"I just tried to go to the net like I do every game," Francis said of his school-record 26th and 27th goals of the season. "My team really helped me, got me the ball just like I needed and I put it in the net."
East will face Minnetonka in a semifinal at noon Wednesday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The teams played to a scoreless draw during the regular season.
Senior forward Sean Brueninghaus gave the Greyhounds a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute against the run of play with a shot through traffic.
High-scoring Demetrius Bernardy-Nelson equalized in the 25th minute off a corner kick that wasn't cleared. It was the 29th goal of the season for the Cougars' junior forward.
Senior midfielder Michael Reichhoff was credited with the go-ahead goal off a corner kick in the 37th minute to make it 2-1 at halftime.
"That was important for them; any goal that close to the half is always important," Cougars coach Jeff Ottosen said.
East coach Corey Bachand told his players at halftime to stay confident and calm.
"We were a little hyper, we never really played in that type of atmosphere all year," he said. "We were a little off our game."
Francis, East's all-time goal-scoring leader, then provided the difference, first by perfectly lifting a shot over Centennial goalkeeper Richard Hemric.
"What can you say about that shot? It was really nice," Bachand said. "No goalie is going to save that."
Jesus Galvan-Garcia halved the deficit in the 61st minute, giving fans of the Circle Pines-based school hope of forcing overtime.
"They have a couple really nice players and came after us hard," Bachand said. "That's been, hands down, our hardest opponent all year."
But Will Francis made sure his father - and the rest of the family - will be coming back for two games next week by scoring moments later for the final goal.
"That was probably his best game of the year. He hit some really nice shots," said Chris Francis, who took a United Airlines flight from Cincinnati to Chicago and then transferred to Minneapolis, arriving in time to rent a car and drive to the game. "I was really nervous about (a flight delay). I'm always nervous about these overnights when I fly back for a game."
No need to worry about that anymore. Chris Francis plans on driving the rest of the family back to Minneapolis next week for his son's final two games.
Duluth East 2-2-4
First half - 1. DE, Sean Brueninghaus, 14th minute; 2. C, Demetrius Bernardy-Nelson, 25th; 3. DE, Michael Reichhoff, 37th.
Second half - 4. DE, Will Francis, 48th; 5. C, Jesus Galvan-Garcia, 61st; 6. DE, Francis, 63rd.
Goalies - Richard Hemric, C; Oliver Hasler, DE.