Heading into Thursday’s first-round state soccer match at Eagle River High School, the Homer and Service boys teams each had something big to play for.
Homer wanted to prove it could contend with the big boys, which include the large schools like Service, a team that was playing without its starting goalkeeper.
After 80 minutes of action, Homer pulled off a 3-1 upset win that left the Mariners fans in complete ecstasy, knowing that they had prolonged their bid for a state championship to Friday’s state semifinal round, where they will face the Colony Knights at Anchorage Football Stadium at 3 p.m.
“Upset? I don’t know, (Service) was No. 3,” said Homer coach Warren Waldorf. “Two equal seeds.”
Both Homer and Service were given No. 3 seeds for the tournament due to a random draw, but common sense dictated that according to school size and population, Service was the heavy favorite.
“I said this before, I think we’re within a goal of any team in the state,” Waldorf said. “That’s what this game was shaking out to be, and then we scored two quick ones.”
The Cougars were left in a state of shock, not surprising for a team that compiled a 10-2-2 conference record, but more because of the situation involving the team’s starting goalie.
Jacob Anders was hospitalized last Sunday in a car accident that also involved his father, and that left the Cougars competing with heavy hearts.
“It was a hard week,” said Service coach Dan Rufner. “It’s been emotional, there’s been lots of tears for the whole team and hospital visits. We’ve been more focused on delivering meals for the family than game prep, so it’s been tough.”
Rufner was forced to use his backup goalie, Caleb VanBlankenstein, who also has varsity experience.
For a squad that has had Waldorf praising his line of defense, it was the offensive tricks that caught Service off guard.
The Cougars held control for much of the match, but the Mariners struck first in the eighth minute on their first shot on goal. The Service defense was caught off-guard on a Homer attack as VanBlankenstein found himself backpeddling to catch the ball, which took a bounce into the net. Quinn Daugharty was credited with the goal.
Service equalized in the 30th minute with a deep cross played from the left side by Azzam Azzam that left Homer goalie Brian Rowe scrambling to the right but ultimately coming up short as the ball bounced off the right goalpost.
The real drama came in the 58th minute, when Jake Worsfold, Drew Brown, Max Mangue and Daugharty all got a touch on the ball within the Service goalie box, which suddenly became a frantic scene of shots that simply were not going in at point-blank range.
Worsfold eventually knocked it in for the go-ahead score.
“I don’t know what happened there,” Waldorf said.
Just two minutes later, Mangue received a through ball from Mario Glosser and was able to break away and make a run downfield that resulted in a shot that bounced off VanBlankenstein and back to Mangue, who sealed the win with an insurance goal.
“Usually we score and we let up a little bit, but today we scored and then we attacked,” Waldorf said. “It’s a different and new behavior that we haven’t seen before.”
Service attempted numerous desperation shots on goal in the late minutes, but Rowe stood strong in net for the Mariners.
“We’re gonna stay excited,” Waldorf said. “This is a big deal for the kids. How often does a small-school team go to state and win the tournament?”