Centennial coach Jeff Ottosen’s analogy regarding the final few minutes of the first half of Saturday’s Section 7AA boys soccer championship game was an apt one.
Centennial and Duluth East were scoreless for more than 37 minutes of the title game when the Cougars decided the match in a matter of seconds.
Cal Babiash and Garrett Miers scored goals just two minutes apart before halftime and Centennial went on to defend its title with a 3-0 victory over the Greyhounds at Ordean Stadium.
“Both teams built up a whole lot of tension and (the goals) were like a balloon popping,” Ottosen said.
East (12-2) controlled the majority of the half and went on to put eight shots on Isaac Verke’s goal, but the team’s balloon burst when Babiash knocked in a loose ball in front of the net in the 38th minute and Miers followed by knocking in a crossing pass from his brother, Will, in the 40th.
“I felt like we were the better team but sometimes it doesn’t fall your way,” East junior midfielder Kai Hoffman said. “The way we started off, I was hoping we’d go up a goal or two or maybe go in 0-0 (at halftime). But unfortunately they netted those two goals.”
Will Miers tacked on a goal in the 64th minute to account for the final tally and give the Cougars (7-4-3) back-to-back titles despite entering the playoffs as the fourth seed. They needed to defeat Forest Lake in a shootout and then took out top-seeded Blaine 2-1 in the semifinals.
East, the third seed, also went on the road to win its semifinal, but Ottosen doesn’t believe those seedings were true to form.
“I thought both of our teams were underseeded,” he said. “I think Duluth East and Centennial were the two best teams in our section, honestly. And that’s how it eventually boiled itself out.”
Centennial ousted a depleted East squad 4-0 in last season’s semifinals. Greyhounds coach Corey Bachand, however, has called this year’s team as talented as the one that lost in the 2018 Class AA state tournament and came into the final with high hopes. Afterward, he wasn’t pleased with his team’s play.
“Overall, it was probably our worst game of the season,” Bachand said. “(Centennial) did what it needed to do today, and our boys never clicked. From the beginning to the end, we just never had it. The ball is usually on our foot and today we struggled with that. So we went into a kick-and-chase (style) and that’s more their game.”
East will graduate nine seniors but eight of the team’s starters are juniors, meaning the Greyhounds should be a top contender next season.
The hope is that by that time, COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted and the Minnesota State High School League will host a state tournament again. East players and coaches were happy soccer was allowed to go on this fall even with the ultimate goal unattainable.
“To be able to finish the season from where we started is amazing,” Bachand said. “The seniors got to play all season and I was happy for them.”
Ditto for Hoffman, who led East with 16 goals this season.
“I was super thankful,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d have a season, maybe one or two games, but we ended up playing our whole season with no (positive COVID-19) cases.”
Duluth East 0-0—0
First half — 1. C, Cal Babiash, 38th; 2. C, Garrett Miers (Will Miers), 40th.
Second half — 3. C, W. Miers, 64th.
Saves — Isaac Verke, C, 8; Eli Kramer, DE, 4.