In the United Kingdom, they call them derby matches -- soccer games between cross-town rivals where pride and bragging rights are often more important than a team's position in the standings.
That was the situation Tuesday when the Skyview High School soccer teams made the short trip to play Soldotna in Region III action, and the games lived up to the derby tradition -- end-to-end action, intense defense and scrappy attacking opportunities.
To that end, the Skyview girls ground out a scoreless draw against the host Stars, while the Soldotna boys converted a late penalty kick to take a 2-1 win from the Panthers.
"When SoHi and Skyview meet, it's always tough," said Skyview sweeper Daniel Rich. "I came in here expecting a tough match that would go right down to the end."
Lucas Petersen netted the match winner for the Stars with about eight minutes remaining in the match, calmly placing the ball past Skyview keeper Dorian Heatherly.
Heatherly, normally one of the Panthers' most dominant field players, was back in net as Skyview had to shuffle its roster due to injury and ineligibility. With the Panthers facing a one-goal deficit late in the game, though, the senior captain returned to his forward position to try to find the equalizer.
"You saw, as soon as he came out of goal, what an impact player he is," said Skyview coach Dave Carpenter.
"I think they missed having Heatherly in the midfield," said Soldotna coach John Bramante. "It would have been a very different game if he had been in the midfield."
It might have been a very different game had Heatherly not been in the net, though, as the he made several diving saves to keep the Stars off the board in the first half.
The Panthers mounted several good attacks over the final eight minutes of the match, many of them coming up the right wing to Chris Hodel, who was able to send several excellent crosses into the Soldotna penalty area.
But between the solid play of Soldotna keeper Lee Green and just plain bad luck, Hodel's crosses never found a Skyview player, or the back of the Stars' net.
Just when it appeared that the Panthers had tied the game up with two minutes left in the game, an apparent goal was called back by the referee, who said that he had whistled the play dead due to a foul before a cross was played in front of the Soldotna net. The Panthers got another try with a direct kick on the play, but the Stars defense was able to clear the ball away.
Carpenter expressed his frustration with inconsistent rulings from the referee.
"He lost control of the game," Carpenter said. "We played a great game, SoHi played a great game. ... I thought both sides behaved themselves very well, because you had a game that was bordering on being out of control."
In fact, both teams received several yellow-card cautions during the match, which took on an edgy quality due to the intensity on both sides of the ball.
"It was a hard-hitting game," said Soldotna striker Mack Reynolds. "We're hometown rivals -- we're always competing."
The Panthers scored the first goal of the match in the 29th minute. Hodel converted a Skyview penalty kick with a low, hard shot, catching Green moving the other way on the goal line.
Soldotna had a chance to draw even early in the second half, but a penalty kick by Edgar Ruiz whistled wide of the net.
The Stars didn't get on the board until the 62nd minute, when Peter Kim got just enough of a well-struck free kick by teammate James McCoy to deflect the ball past Heatherly's fingertips.
The Stars dodged several bullets over the next 10 minutes before Petersen got his chance at the penalty spot.
"(We've been able to come from behind) in the last couple of games," Reynolds said. "We've wanted those games, and we've worked hard to come back."
The Skyview and Soldotna girls played their match about as evenly as possible. Both teams were well organized defensively, both moved the ball through the midfield well, and both sides had several excellent scoring opportunities.
"We were able to move the ball around," said Skyview girls coach Tony Lewis. "Today, when there wasn't quite as much pressure on them, they played the kind of soccer I'd like them to play."
"Skyview did a great job shutting down our ground game in the box," said Soldotna girls coach Katie Tongue. "We did everything right. We were going to the ball, we made lots of nice passes -- just too many nice passes."
In fact, Soldotna players seemed to be looking for the perfect pass once they got into the attacking third of the field, rather than firing off a shot to test Skyview keeper Ailis Vann.
"At halftime, our coach said just to start shooting," said Soldotna midfielder Jenny Carpenter. "We were trying to get in too far."
Carpenter followed that advice, launching a shot from 25 yards out on a direct kick late in the game. The shot just missed the Skyview goal, whizzing just over the crossbar.
Skyview was able to sustain its attack for the first time in several games.
"We were finally able to push the ball up to our forwards a little more," said Skyview forward Shannon Encelewski. "Our defense is playing awesome. It's a big accomplishment, not letting them score."
"We worked together as a team," said Skyview fullback Donna Sadler. "(That means) communicating and knowing where everybody else is. We were using our heads a lot more today."
The Stars also were pleased with the way they moved the ball.
"We're getting open and moving to spots," Carpenter said of her squad's improved passing. "We used to crowd. Now we're getting the ball out to the sides."
"We just need to get a few more shots off," said Soldotna central defender Jamie Beever. "We're working well together."
The Skyview girls are now 0-5-2 overall and in the region, and the point gained in the standings from Tuesday's game becomes pivotal as they fight for one of the eight berths in the Region III tournament, while the Soldotna girls are now 2-4-2.
The Skyview boys fall to 3-3-1 overall and in the region, while the Soldotna boys are now 4-3-1.
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