PALMER — The Colony Knights have their sights set on winning the team’s 11th region title in program history. But Friday, the Kenai Kardinals were on the verge of knocking the Knights out of contention.
Colony needed a Kyle Bolam in extra time to slip past the upset-minded Kardinals 3-2 during the semifinal round of the Northern Lights Conference tournament at Wasilla High School’s Veterans Memorial Field.
“They came out ready to play,” Colony senior captain Ben Atkinson said of the Kardinals. “They definitely wanted it.”
Colony led 2-0 at halftime, but the Kardinals used a pair of TJ Wagoner goals to tie the game in the game in the second half. The Kardinals kept the game tied with the stellar play of goalkeeper Wren Norwood, and the defenders in front of him.
“They did a good job of capitalizing on chances when they had them, did a really good job of defending and they have a really quality keeper; probably one of the best in the state,” Atkinson said of the Kardinals.
Wagoner scored the first of his two goals in the 45th minute to cut Colony’s lead in half. Evan Atchley recorded an assist on the play.
In the 70th minute, Wagoner scored again to tie the game. Following a flurry of action in front of the Kenai net, the ball was pushed the other direction. Wagoner broke loose and lifted a shot high into the net.
Longtime Colony head coach Jeremy Johnson said the Kards came out in the second half ready to stun is squad.
“They knocked us down. They knocked us on our butt. We made a defensive mistake. They scored the goal, and they fed off that,” Johnson said.
Kenai head coach John Morton said Wagoner is the type of player capable of those match-changing plays.
“TJ, he’s just so quick,” Martin said. “He can read the ball so well.”
While Wagoner capitalized on his opportunities, Norwood and the Kardinals defense prevented the Knights from capitalizing on anything in the second half of regulation.
“You can’t take anything away from their goalkeeper. They blocked a lot of shots. I’ll give their defense credit for that. But there were three or four great saves by their goalkeeper,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted specifically a Norwood save on a shot by Colony’s Ben Sande late in the first half. Johnson said he felt if Sande is able to score that goal and push the Knights’ lead to three, things could have been different.
But Norwood made the saves, and the effort continued in the second half.
In the final minutes of regulation, shortly after Kenai knotted the game at 2, at least five different Colony Knights had legitimate scoring chances. Harrison Menard ripped a shot on net, and Norwood tipped it over the crossbar. Sande cracked a shot, but it was blocked by a defender. Atkinson had a header off a corner kick that went right over the crossbar.
“We were definitely frustrated. We had a lot of chances we didn’t capitalize on,” Atkinson said.
The senior captain said the Knights tried to be fueled by that frustration.
“We were getting angry at ourselves,” Atkinson said. “We were getting fired up, getting hungry for goals after having so many chances on net.”
Colony finally found its go-ahead score in the 91st minute. Chaz Stephens set up the play with a long throw-in that went into the box. After a quick scramble, Bolam bounced the ball into the net with a header.
Atkinson said he felt it was a good time to face some adversity.
“It’s really nice, especially with state coming up,” Atkinson said. “It lets the guys know what’s coming ahead.”
Johnson said he hopes this is the team’s wakeup call.
“This is their last chance to make a mistake. Every one from here on out is a big one. We made a lot of mistakes today, but managed to come out with a win,” Johnson said.
Wasilla 1, Homer 0
WASILLA — Following Colony’s thrilling 3-2 overtime win over Kenai, Wasilla set up an all-Valley boys’ final with a 1-0 win over Homer on Friday evening in the NLC semifinals.
Senior captain Cash McGregor scored the lone goal of the match during the 25th minute, using a diving header to notch the goal. Oleg Lozko set up the play with a corner kick from the left side of the field. McGregor, parked in the far side of the box, was the first to touch the corner kick, diving to knock the ball low into the net.
Both Colony and Wasilla earned berths to the state soccer tournament with wins Friday. The rivals will meet Saturday at 4 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Field for the title.
Kenai and Homer will meet in the third-place game Saturday at noon. The winner will earn the NLC’s final state tournament berth.