The South Anchorage boys proved they were the better team Saturday evening with a 3-1 victory over Kenai Central in the state soccer championship final, but the Kardinals proved they will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
The South boys secured the crown with a trio of second-half goals, giving the Wolverines their sixth state soccer title of the 12-year-old program.
Kenai, making the first ever appearance in a state final by a peninsula team, proved they could contend with the cream of the crop, starting with a semifinal win over Service on Friday night and finishing with a solid go at the Wolverines on Saturday. The runner-up result marks the best finish by a peninsula team at the state tournament.
“It’s hard to feel disappointed and proud at the same time, but that’s what I feel,” said Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma. “I’m not disappointed with the team, but the result. We believed we could do it, and I’m proud of their effort.”
Sophomore Zack Tuttle ruined South’s attempt at a shutout with a goal in the 80th minute, swooping in from the left wing and delivering a shot into the netting. Reemtsma said that goal, even though it ultimately meant nothing, was important to have.
“It’s just a shot across the bow for next year, a reminder of the kind of spirit these guys have,” Reemtsma said.
One of the key cogs on the defensive line that played a valuable role in getting to Saturday’s title contest was junior defender Max Dye, who routinely turned back through balls from opponents over the three-day period.
Dye said that the absence of a peninsula squad until this year left the Kards with a fire in their belly and with a point to prove.
“It was very important (to play in the final), it’s nice to make some school history,” Dye said. “Everyone overlooks us always, and I’m tired of that happening.”
Coming off a long overtime game that ultimately went to penalty kicks, the Kardinals contained South’s advances in the first half to force a scoreless game by halftime. The Wolverines managed to outshoot Kenai 6-2 in the opening 40 minutes, which left the Kards with 150 straight minutes of shutout play, including Friday’s contest.
Dye teamed with sophomore Braydon Goodman, senior Joe Brighton and sophomore Rykker Riddall to produce a formidable wall that South had trouble cracking.
However, the fortress finally sprung a leak nine minutes into the second half when a Wolverines shot on goal was headed outward and into the clutches of South senior Britton Clifford, who blasted the ball into the netting for a 1-0 lead.
“After their (first) goal, we pushed up, and that allowed them to counter on us,” Dye said. “I don’t think the score reflected what it could’ve been.”
South sophomore Noah Johnson added to the lead in the 69th minute, getting an assist from Andrew DePaepe and rattling the ball off the crossbar.
DePaepe scored himself five minutes later, receiving a well-played assist from Johnson in the left corner to send home the dagger.
“We’re not a team that’s built to come from behind,” Reemtsma explained. “We like to absorb pressure and counterattack.”
For much of the game, Reemtsma put Tuttle out in the middle of the field, with the rest of the Kardinals playing well deep to hold back their opponents. With the fleet-footed Tuttle ready to pounce at a moment’s notice, even the Wolverines were wary of who to cover.
“We knew better than to let (Tuttle) stray from us,” said South senior Spencer Evans. “It wasn’t really fair being three-on-one with him, but we worried about those through balls.”
Looking ahead to 2017, Kenai will be only losing six seniors, and just three of them received significant minutes on field this season, including co-captain midfielder Ean Atchley, midfielder Draiden McMinn and Brighton. The future bodes well for Kenai.
“The possibilities of this team moving forward are frightening,” Reemtsma said.