For the first 18 minutes of Skyview's 2-1 state tournament soccer victory against Dimond Thursday at Colony High School, things not only looked bad for the Panthers, things looked bad for Kenai Peninsula soccer in general.
Skyview had been the class of the area during the regular season, going undefeated on the peninsula. After peninsula soccer teams failed to make it to state last season, the Panthers headed north this year with the goal of becoming the first peninsula boys team to claim a victory at state.
For the first 18 minutes, the flowing and controlled attack of the Lynx, who won the state title in 2002, made it seem as if such a victory would be a long time coming.
In many cases, the Panthers were not just a step slow, they were two or three steps slow.
"It was a new level of play for us, and we had to adjust to it," Skyview's Sean Mallette said.
The Lynx finally broke through for a goal 18 minutes into the game.
AP Photo/Michael Dinneen
Dimond's Brian Carr (10) and Skyview's Sebastian Spincher battle for the ball in an opening-round match of the state prep soccer championships Thursday, May 20, 2004, in Palmer, Alaska. Skyview won 2-1.
AP Photo/Michael Dinneen
Dimond's Justin Burch tossed a throw-in to Ben Campbell, who flicked the ball toward the goal with his head. Skyview goalie Matt Stalnik did well to get a piece of the ball and send it off the post, but Jorge Leon was right there to put the rebound into an open net.
From that point on, the game would never be the same. The Panthers picked up the pace considerably and matched the Lynx opportunity for opportunity.
"At the start of the game, we were mentally prepared but we needed a spark," Skyview's Jason Smith said. "As soon as they scored that first goal, we focused.
"We knew they were a good team, and we knew we had to play hard."
In the 32nd minute, Skyview capitalized on one of the opportunities they started creating after the 18th minute.
Skyview played a ball into the penalty area and Dimond goalie Will Russell left the goal line to try and control it. Russell arrived at the ball at the same time as a group of players. The ball squirted free to Skyview's Kyle Eshleman at the top of the penalty area. He poked it into the open net to tie the score.
"As soon as we scored, we decided we would not sit back and be schooled," Skyview coach Dave Carpenter said.
The goal also impacted the Lynx (8-4 overall). Dimond coach David Gonzalez said his team has been prone to letting down and getting outworked all year long.
"That goal took the wind out of our sails a little bit," Gonzalez said. "As soon as he scored it, it was like, 'Here we go again.'"
The bad news continued for Dimond eight minutes into the second half, when forward Josh Dworsky received his second yellow card of the game and was sent off the field.
About the same time, Skyview forward David Lliteras was becoming a man possessed. In the 14th minute, Lliteras made a run up the sideline and somehow beat a couple of Dimond defenders in the penalty area and ended up with a clear shot, which Russell managed to kick away.
Just six minutes later, Lliteras received a throw-in in the box. His chest trap was perfect. It not only allowed him to turn, but it beat two defenders. He was left with a volley from the middle of the penalty area, which he clanged in off the inside of the post.
"I don't know what all that was about," Carpenter said of the inspired play of Lliteras. "He was able to move the ball around pretty well."
The goal left Skyview 20 minutes from making peninsula soccer history.
"As soon as the goal went in, that was the best I've ever felt about Skyview soccer," Smith said. "It made me want to play even harder."
As the game wore on, Dimond ramped up the urgency of its attack. Skyview's defense, led by Stalnik, failed to yield a golden opportunity, however.
"His nickname is Mighty Mouse," Smith said of Stalnik. "He may not be tall, but he does a great job organizing the defense back there."
When the final whistle blew, the Panthers reveled in making peninsula soccer history by mobbing each other in front of their bench.
"Our goal coming up here was to win one game," Carpenter said. "At the coaches meeting, I heard, 'Skyview who?' several times.
"I figured we had a chance to steal one today, and we did just that."
The Panthers now move into the semifinals, where they face Juneau-Douglas, which has won the state title two out of the last three years. The game will be at 4 p.m. at Wasilla High School.
Carpenter said the Panthers (12-2 overall) played their best game of the year Thursday, and they will have to repeat that if they hope to hang with the Crimson Bears (16-0-3).
"They're something," Carpenter said.
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