Friday night's Region III soccer tournament semifinal between Kenai Central and Soldotna at Skyview High School had some of everything -- great goals, brilliant saves, beautiful passing and stellar defense.
And in the end, it provided a bit of redemption for the Stars, who barely survived 20 minutes of overtime before winning in penalty kicks to defeat the Kardinals 3-2 and clinch their first trip to the state tournament.
"Since I've been here, we've had some pretty good teams and never made it out of the first round," said Soldotna senior Ben Histand. "Now, to be going to state, that's awesome. And to do it against Kenai -- that may be the best game I've ever been in."
Also Friday, Colony advanced to the championship match by virtue of a 2-0 win over Skyview.
Friday's match had much the same feel of last year's quarterfinal game between the Stars and the Kardinals. In that match, Kenai netted a late goal to send the game to overtime and eventually win on penalty kicks.
Kenai again netted a goal late in the first half to tie the score at 1, and the Kardinals found the back of the net in the first 10-minute overtime period on a penalty kick to break the deadlock.
But this year, Soldotna's Johnny Miller scored on a 25-yard blast with just a minute left in the second overtime period to tie the match at 2, then the Stars hit four of five penalty kicks and goalkeeper Adam Kiffmeyer came up with a huge save and got some help from his post on another to send the Stars through to next week's state tournament hosted by Colony and Wasilla.
"It was like deja vu until Johnny Miller put that one in," Histand said.
Soldotna netted the first goal of the match four minutes into the second half after the teams traded scoring chances in the first half.
Kenai goalkeeper Eric Nyce came off his line to block a point-blank Soldotna shot by Chris Houglum, and in the collision the ball popped up in the air and squirted behind Nyce for a goal.
The Kardinals tied the game 20 minutes later when Carlos Carreon settled a centering pass from Richard Alexander and placed his shot past the dive of Kiffmeyer.
Regulation ended with a flurry just in front of the Soldotna goal, and Kiffmeyer was called on to make a big save seven minutes into the first overtime, tipping a shot on a direct kick from 35 yards out by Alexander over the crossbar.
Kenai kept the pressure on by winning a series of corner kicks, though, and a Soldotna player was whistled for handling the ball in the penalty area, setting up Carreon's second goal of the match on a penalty kick in the eighth minute of overtime.
Soldotna pressed forward throughout the second overtime, but couldn't find a way past Nyce until Miller took a feed from Iver Kohler late in the second overtime.
"Iver gave me a perfect ball, and I just put it on net," Miller said. "I was lucky."
Mills then drilled the first of Soldotna's five penalty kicks, and Anthony Murray confidently struck the final one to seal the win after Kiffmeyer came up with a diving save to put the Stars up by two in the shootout.
Kiffmeyer also thanked his lucky Stars.
"I just got lucky," Kiffmeyer said. "That's all right, though. I felt a lot of pressure being in that situation for the first time, but I wanted to be there. I think we all did."
Colony 2, Skyview 0
The Panthers played well, but just couldn't generate enough offense against Colony.
"That's just the way it goes, I guess," said Skyview's Matt Matarrese said. "We just couldn't get our attack started. We got our passing going in midfield, but we just seemed to be (a step) behind (when we played the ball forward)."
Mike Bell played well in goal through the first half for the Panthers, coming up with a big save on a ball shot out of a scrum in front of the Skyview goal in the 23rd minute.
Colony scored its first goal on a well-struck direct kick from 35 yards out by Landon Swank.
Colony made it 2-0 11 minutes into the second half, converting a penalty kick after Bell was booked for an American football-style tackle while trying get his hands on a loose ball in the penalty area.
Michael Benson got the goal for the Knights.
Colony coach Jeremy Johnson said that Skyview had improved dramatically since their first meeting this season, which also happened to be Skyview's first day out of the gym.
"We felt we controlled the game pretty well, but their goalie made some good saves," Johnson said. "We beat them 6-0 in the first game, but we knew it wasn't going to be a team we could beat 6-0 this time around."
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