The Kenai Central High School girls soccer team had upset on its mind Wednesday afternoon, taking a 1-0 lead into the half against the visiting Colony Knights.
The Knights, though, spoiled the upset bid with a surge late in the match, notching five second-half goals for a 5-2 win.
It was Kenai's first loss of the season, giving the Kardinals a 4-1 mark overall and in Region III. The Knights remain undefeated with a 7-0-1 overall record and a 5-0 mark in the region.
The Colony boys, meanwhile, started off strong against the Kardinals, netting a pair of goals in the opening minutes of play.
That proved to be all they would score as the Kenai defense stiffened the rest of the way and the Knights stole away with a 2-0 win.
Kenai falls to 2-3 overall and in the region while the Knights improve to 5-1 overall and 5-0 in the region.
Cory Hershberger put the Kenai girls on the board 17 minutes into the match, heading a long throw-in from Jamie Montgomery just inside the near post.
"We always try to do that," Montgomery said. "(Cory) is always ready for the head ball. I try to throw it to her because I know she's aggressive and she'll go after it."
While Hershberger, Jessi Reilly and Katherine Amen able to sustain an attack in spurts, the Kardinals defense was busy holding Colony's potent offense at bay.
"It was pretty tough," said Kenai's Jennifer Stewart. "It was hard because we hadn't played against anyone who could pass like that."
The Kardinals were able to clear the ball away from the front of their goal through the first half, while keeper Stephanie Arbelovsky hand a handle on any shots that did slip through.
Colony regrouped at the half and tied up the game five minutes into the second half with a goal from Sam Gatto, beating the Kardinals defense with a sequence of passes.
"We gave them some positive encouragement that we're capable of performing better than we had," said Colony coach Lorie Miner of the squad's halftime talk. "(Kenai) came out prepared to play, and they took advantage of us being a little bit down."
Hershberger restored Kenai's lead 10 minutes later, burying a penalty kick in the upper right corner.
Gatto answered with another goal for Colony in the 58th minute, camping out at the back post and touching home a ball played across the mouth of the goal.
Kelly Quinn gave the Knights their first lead of the match in the 62nd minute, dancing her way past several Kenai defenders along the goal line before cutting the ball back and putting a shot past Arbelovsky's dive.
Arbelovsky was called on to stop a pair of penalty kicks late in the game -- and succeeded in stopping both of them.
Quinn lined up for a penalty kick after a Kenai defender was called for handling the ball in the 18-yard box with 15 minutes left in the game. Arbelovsky knocked down the shot right up the middle, but couldn't pounce on the rebound before Quinn got her foot on it to give the Knights a 4-2 lead.
Arbelovsky stopped a second penalty kick five minutes later, this time diving to her right to snatch the ball as it bounced off the inside of the post.
Sienna Garrod scored Colony's final goal, taking a long shot from the wing that squirted past Arbelovsky.
The Kardinals did come away with a few lessons learned.
"Our coach has been teaching us -- he calls it a 'bust,'" Stewart said, describing a tactic for marking an attacker. "I learned how to do it really well (against Colony).
"Our forwards saw their passing and how it affected our defense -- our forwards can pass like that."
"Colony's a very skilled team back to front," said Kenai girls coach Dan Verkuilen. "A little more experience playing those competitive teams, and we're right there. This was a great opportunity for us to see top caliber soccer."
Sean McDowell scored a pair of goals in the opening minutes to put the Kenai boys into a hole in the early going, but the Kardinals defense figured out a way to slow down Colony's attack.
Wally Ward anchored Kenai's defense, with Brandon Raymond and Marcus Webster playing well on the flanks.
Sean Nuccio came up with save after save, particularly in the second half, to bolster the Kardinals' effort.
"He came off his line real well," said Kenai boys coach Dave Landry. "That's what you want your keeper to do -- control his area."
"At the beginning of the second half, we stepped it up," said Colony boys coach Jeremy Johnson. " You've got to credit the Kenai keeper. He had a lot of big saves.
"Kenai put in a solid effort -- those kids are workhorses."
Landry was pleased to see his side continue to improve.
"What we're building for is the region tournament," Landry said. "Every game you play, you're looking for improvement, and we're seeing that. Colony is a very skillful side. We're starting to come around."
The Kardinals were able to create several good scoring chances. Cesar Lopez got the ball to teammates in good shooting positions, and Joel Reemtsma and Greg Landua found themselves with chances on net during the course of the game.
Landry also was pleased with the effort in the midfield, particularly with the defensive work on the outside.
"We did something (Colony) didn't anticipate -- we gave them a game," Landry said.
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