Jake Iverson had no time to think before he kicked the ball. He won't forget what happened.
The Kenai Central senior scored his first career varsity goal as the host Kardinals earned a gritty 2-1 Northern Lights Conference win over Soldotna on Monday.
"I just took a swing and hoped for net," said Iverson, a second-year player.
Iverson's goal in the 15th minute, coupled with Kyle Scarlett's strike in the 20th and a gutsy effort from goalkeeper James Watkins, gave the Kards their first victory over the Stars since they beat them in the NLC championship in 2008.
Kenai Central improved to 3-2-0 in the NLC Southern Division and could still finish as high as second place. SoHi dropped to 3-1-0 in the division and must tie or defeat Homer on Wednesday to stay in contention for a regular-season division title.
"It's a tough loss," SoHi coach Jeff Siemers said. "We'll have to keep plowing through and finish the season strong. We want to end on a high note instead of not finishing."
On Monday, it was the Kards who finished. Holding a 2-0 lead at halftime, Kenai Central anchored down on defense over the final 40 minutes as SoHi controlled possession.
Cody Vandehey cut the lead to 2-1 in the 68th minute when his shot from about 18 yards out grazed the underside of the crossbar and bounced straight down into the net.
The goal came after a SoHi indirect free kick. The Stars got the kick after Kenai Central's Tavo De La Torre was issued a yellow card when he shouldered Dagen Walton on the edge of the penalty box as Walton made a deep run toward the net.
Kenai Central's defense and midfield had answers for each SoHi threat on a night when the Stars controlled possession.
Kards coach David Landry said the success was due in part to a switch he made in the lineup, moving Josh McKee from defense to midfield because McKee is efficient with the ball.
"He is so calm on the ball and that's what's so inspiring for some of these other guys," Landry said. "They communicated with each other better than they have in forever.
"If you're talking about getting a little bit better with every game, you couldn't have picked a better game for it. It kind of sets the table."
Siemers said Cory Carver and Tate Syverson played well for the Stars. The coach credited Kenai Central for capitalizing on scoring chances.
"They finished when they needed to. They got the goals they needed," Siemers said. "Anytime you are playing from behind, it's tough and it can be tough to get in a groove."
Iverson gave the Kards the lead when he took a perfectly placed cross from Avery Palchikoff, who flicked the ball to Iverson as a defender rode his hip. Iverson controlled it and zipped a low shot inside the right post.
Less than five minutes later, Scarlett tucked a high shot inside the right post to give the Kards a 2-0 advantage.
For Iverson, who started playing soccer two years ago, the strike was a long time coming.
"You talk about a kid who plays 110 percent to his abilities and talent and effort," Landry said. "That's what we want."
The Kards face Ketchikan on Thursday and Colony and Palmer on Friday and Saturday. They are finished with NLC Southern Division matches, meaning their seeding for the conference tournament will be determined by other squads.
Homer would clinch the division with a win over SoHi on Wednesday.
"We'll have to wait and see what happens," Landry said. "It's just nice to be able to put ourselves in a better position. Now we have a shot."
After a blowout loss to Wasilla on the road this past weekend, Iverson said the win will boost Kenai Central's confidence.
"We wanted to focus on this game," he said. "This game was our most important game because we know it's going to build up toward regions, going to build our confidence, going to build everything. Just a good foot forward in the right direction."
Soldotna girls 5, Kenai Central 0
After a scoreless 30 minutes, the Stars buried the host Kards for a Northern Lights Conference victory on a blustery Monday afternoon.
Kylee Wolfe scored twice and Kaitlyn Van Meter, Sydney Goggia and Kaili Sholin each tallied goals as the Stars moved to 7-1-0 overall and 4-0-0 in the NLC South.
"I'm proud of the effort, especially the second half," said SoHi coach Mike Tovoli, whose squad led 2-0 after 40 minutes. "I liked the way our defense controlled the ball. I liked our tic-tac passing. I liked our movement in the second half -- so much better than the first half."
The Stars controlled possession from the beginning, but it wasn't until the 30th minute when they found the back of the net.
That's when Van Meter scored off a Julie Litchfield corner kick. About two minutes later, Wolfe netted her first goal with a sliding shot from the left side of the box.
Goggia scored five minutes into the second half, and Wolfe and Sholin scored within a span of two minutes to blow the game open around the 70th minute.
Tovoli said his squad played better over the final 40 minutes after a sluggish first half.
"The first half we played very tentative, very scared, just not sure of what we were supposed to do," Tovoli said. "We still have a tendency to do that. We have yet to put a full game together."
It was a physical game in which SoHi was the aggressor.
Kenai Central's Vanessa Anderson collapsed to the grass and didn't get up for a minute after one collision in the first half. Teammate Jenna Calhoun sprawled on her back after the final whistle, struggling to breath. Both did not sustain serious injuries and were OK after the game.
The coaches offered different perspectives on the physical play.
"I don't think we played physical enough. When you play at the next level against better schools than just what we are playing, it's much more physical," Tovoli said. "You can't go at half-speed. You can't do that. You'll get pushed over. You play Dimond, they'll put you to the ground because they play solid, controlled soccer. Everything is within their frame and within their right. They do nothing illegal. It's fun to watch because that's how it's supposed be played."
Added Kenai Central coach Dan Verkuilen: "We are such a young team. After awhile, they kind of got tired of getting hit and tended to shy away from it, which meant they didn't play as aggressive. That's where some of those goals came from. It's physical play and they weren't used to it. It's something they need to get used to because it's part of the game."
The Stars would clinch the regular-season title with a win at Homer on Wednesday. The Kards, meanwhile, hold second place at 3-1-1 in the division. Kenai Central hosts Ketchikan for senior night at 4 p.m. Thursday.
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