The Soldotna boys get credit for never giving up, they just don't get credit for defeating Wasilla on Friday in the semifinals of the Northern Lights Conference soccer tournament at the Kenai Soccer Complex.
The Warriors held off a late Soldotna rally to win 3-2 and earn their sixth-straight state berth and a spot in Saturday's championship at 4 p.m. against Colony.
Soldotna now must beat Homer in Saturday's third-place game at noon to earn a state berth.
The Stars were already down 2-1 to the two-time defending conference champion Warriors when Dylan Kuntz was red-carded in the 61st minute, forcing Soldotna to play with 10 guys.
Just three minutes later, Kyler Perry, who will play for Pacific Lutheran next season, earned a penalty kick in the box. Perry took the PK, and SoHi keeper Kayne North did well to parry the attempt, but it bounced off the side post and back to Perry, who finished this time.
So with 16 minutes to play, the Stars were down two goals and one player. Time for Wasilla coach Blake Livingston to be comfortable, right?
"We have a lot of respect for Soldotna," Livingston said. "We've had some battles with them over the years. We knew they would not give up."
The Stars fulfilled Livingston's expectations. In the 37th minute, Charalambos Asimakopoulos took a corner kick. Cory Carver got wide open in the middle of the box and headed it home.
SoHi then pressed hard in the final minutes for the equalizer.
The Stars last went to state in 2009, meaning nobody on the current team has made it. SoHi coach Jeff Siemers said that showed in the final minutes.
He also said it bodes well heading into the Homer game today. The Stars beat the Mariners 2-1 earlier this year.
"We made it exciting," Siemers said. "We did not give up."
Livingston said his back line was solid all day, but he added a player like Carver gives any defense problems.
"He's a special player," the coach said.
Wasilla's fast, physical forwards earned great chances early on, but it was Carver that created the game's first score. He broke free on the right side and picked out Sawyer Rickman on the far post. Rickman provided the sure finish in the 32nd minute.
But Wasilla kept pressing. The Warriors played through ball after through ball, and North continually threw himself in harm's way to short-circuit attacks.
"I think their keeper was fantastic," Livingston said. "He made some tremendous saves."
Wasilla finally solved North in the 39th minute, when Elijah Crawford dribbled toward the end line and cut the ball back to Oleg Lazko, who scored.
Just eight minutes into the second half, the Warriors took their first lead of the game when Ethan Keenan took the ball away from a SoHi defender on the outside, cruised down the middle and beat North.
The next turning point was the Kuntz red card, which Siemers said the referee told him was for elbowing a Wasilla player. Siemers he thought Kuntz played a good game until that point. He said he did not see the elbow that led to the ejection, but he said such an action is out of character for the freshman.
"Going down to 10 players obviously made it a little more difficult," Siemers said.
Kuntz also will be suspended for the game against Homer today, making the task tougher. Forward Cameron Grothe also left the Wasilla game early with an injury. He was able to return late, but Siemers is not sure of his status for the Homer game.
But as Carver showed in the late minutes against Wasilla, the Stars are still formidable.
"He continues to create opportunities for us," Siemers said. "As long as he continues to create opportunities, and we're able to finish a few, we should be fine."