With his team trailing by a goal and getting beat to loose balls, Kenai Central boys soccer coach David Landry issued a halftime challenge: Be aggressive and play with more courage.
The Kardinals responded.
Carlos Villarreal converted a penalty kick in the 66th minute and TJ Wagoner scored in the 70th as the host Kards came from behind to defeat Ketchikan 2-1 in nonconference action Thursday on senior night.
"The boys showed something today," Landry said. "They kept fighting, they clawed back and they got the job done."
Through 40 minutes all signs pointed to a loss for the Kards (4-4-0 overall, 3-2-0 league), who entered the match winless when trailing at halftime.
Ketchikan took a 1-0 lead into the break thanks to Stefan Medford's goal in the 37th minute. Medford took a long goal kick and got behind Kenai Central's defense to beat goalkeeper James Watkins.
The Kings were the aggressors during the first half, when they had four corner kicks to the Kards' zero, held the majority of possession and had a steady wind at their backs.
The momentum shifted midway through the second half.
Villarreal blasted a penalty kick to the right of Ketchikan's keeper to tie the game at 1 with about 15 minutes to play.
"That's a big goal right there," Landry said. "He did a nice job on it."
After Kenai Central switched from a two- to three-forward front to create more offensive pressure, Wagoner tallied the game-winner in the 70th minute.
On a play similar to the Kings' first-half goal, the Kards took a free kick deep inside their own end and the ball carried in the wind down the left wing.
Wagoner, a freshman, ran onto it with a defender draped over his hip and made a move to create separation before tucking the ball inside the near post.
"It took off in the wind and I was just fighting off the defender," Wagoner said of the buildup to his strike. "Luckily I tucked it in."
Ketchikan played the entire second half without starting central defender Case Kuikhoven, who was sidelined with an ankle injury early in the first.
Kuikhoven never returned after taking a slide tackle from Avery Palchikoff, who was issued a yellow card on the play.
His absence, coupled with the fact it was the Kings' second contest in as many days, doomed Ketchikan late in the game.
"It was tough going there at the end," Ketchikan coach Adam Taylor said.
Although the victory doesn't count toward the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division standings -- the Kards will finish in third or fourth place depending on the result of a match between Nikiski and Seward on Saturday -- Landry said it's a sign the team is improving.
Kenai Central visits Palmer at 6 p.m. today and Colony at 10 a.m. Saturday. The conference tournament begins next week.
"I think this shows we are maturing as a team," Landry said. "We are starting to come together at the right time."
Kenai Central girls 2, Ketchikan 1
A pair of sophomores provided the scoring on senior night as the host Kardinals earned a nonconference win over the Kings on Thursday.
Jenna Calhoun and Chelsea Springer notched goals in the 22nd and 60th minutes, respectively, to help Kenai Central erase a one-goal deficit and improve to 4-2-2 overall.
"It was just a great team effort today," Kenai Central coach Dan Verkuilen said. "Really pleased."
Ketchikan took the lead in the 20th minute when Brooke Simmons finished an assist from Hannah Carson with a left-footed shot from the left wing. Simmons kicked the ball straight at Kenai Central goalkeeper Sydney Taylor, who failed to control possession.
It didn't take the Kards long to answer as Calhoun put in a high-arching shot from the left wing two minutes later.
The Kards then controlled possession until the 60th minute, when Calhoun sent a left-to-right cross to Springer, who was open in front of the goal and finished with her right foot.
"They are getting more comfortable with each other," Verkuilen said of the Kards. "That's what we want -- for them to keep gaining chemistry."
For the first time this season, Verkuilen implemented a 2-4-4 formation instead of a 3-3-4. The move was an experiment, the coach said, and was designed to give his forwards more space on the attack and to bolster the midfield.
Since the Kards are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Northern Lights Conference Southern Division, Verkuilen said there was little risk in trying a new look.
"If it goes wrong, you can always switch back," he said.
The coach praised seniors Allie McGahan and Shelby Toombs, as well as Lauren Schams. Kenai Central faces Palmer on the road at 4 p.m. today and Colony at noon Saturday.
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