Hey, even Rocky Balboa lost the first time he faced Apollo Creed -- he just wanted to go the distance.
The Kenai Central High School boys soccer team went the distance Thursday in the opening round of the ASAA State Soccer Championships, taking Chugiak to overtime before falling 3-2 to the Mustangs.
"I think we earned some respect," said Kenai's Wally Ward after the match.
"We scared the pants off them," said Kenai coach David Landry. "We were right there. What can you say about the first time you go into a state tournament? You couldn't ask for anything more."
Mike Johnson scored the match winner for the Mustangs late in the second 10-minute overtime period.
A Kenai defender was called for a foul down in the corner of the Kardinals' end of the field. The serve in off the resulting direct kick was headed around in front of the Kenai net. Kardinals keeper Sean Nuccio got his hands on the ball to swat it away once, but Johnson was able to put his noggin on the ball and slip it into the net.
"We were very fortunate to win," said Chugiak coach Ed Blahous. "They gave us everything we could handle."
Daniel Corral netted the first goal of the match for the Mustangs in the early going, and Casey Lange gave Chugiak a 2-0 lead late in the first half with a rocket of a shot from about 30 yards out.
Lange's shot appeared to catch Nuccio by surprise, and the ball dipped just under the crossbar and into the back of the net.
The Kardinals regrouped at halftime, though, and got the goose egg off the scoreboard in the opening minutes of the second half.
Kenai was able to move the ball up the left flank and get a cross off into the Chugiak box. The ball bounced off several players, Kardinal and Mustang alike, before Owen Brewer got a knee on it at the far post to knock it into the back of the net.
"They took control of the second half. They wanted it badly," Blahous said.
The Mustangs appeared to have the momentum swinging back in their favor midway through the second half when a partial breakaway led to an excellent chance on net.
The shot beat Nuccio, but not the post, and the Kardinals countered quickly and scored the equalizer about a minute later.
Cory Jansen tucked the shot home, heading a ball in that had been served into the box from the left flank. The serve bounced once in the middle of the Chugiak defense, and Jansen got his head on it before the Mustangs keeper could get off his line to play the ball.
"We were winning every ball," Landry said. "We were first to the ball the entire second half."
In fact, with Greg Landua holding down the center of the park and J.D. Pault and Brett Morris patrolling the flanks, the Kardinals were able to play nice balls forward to Joel Reemtsma and Cesar Lopez consistently.
"We started off a little slow," Ward said. "We had a new formation we were running, and on that first (Chugiak) goal, we were a little out of position. We switched back to what we had been doing all season, and we did better after that.
"At the beginning of the second half, we scored that early goal, and that gave us some energy."
Defensively, the Kardinals got themselves stuck in, making Chugiak work hard for every shot on goal. Central defender Ward kept things organized, and outside backs Devon Anderson and Brandon Raymond kept Chugiak's speedy forwards contained for most of the match.
Nuccio was able to get his hands on just about everything else, making several outstanding saves to keep the Kardinals in the match.
"We've been testing these guys all year, and they keep responding. We've come to expect it of them," Landry said.
"Kenai has good speed up front, and they're solid everywhere else," Blahous said.
Landry said that Kenai's performance against Chugiak bodes well for the rest of the tournament, as well as the program's future.
"From our standpoint, the style we played, the style we're working on playing is going to win us our share of games," Landry said.
And hey -- Rocky beat Apollo in the sequel.
Dimond 5, Palmer 1
Eric Donaldson of the Lynx scored a pair of goals as Dimond took its opening match with Palmer.
Yusuf Registe scored the first goal of the match for the Lynx in the third minute.
Donaldson netted his first goal 11 minutes into the second half and Ben Bailey made it 3-0 for Dimond five minutes later.
Donaldson scored in the 64th minute and Carlos Letora added a goal in the 76th minute for the Lynx.
Guido Moeller prevented the shutout, netting Palmer's only goal of the match with two minutes left to play.
Colony 6, Service 2
The Knights scored early and often to beat the Cougars.
Brandon Ingham and Nathan Chud netted goals in the second and fourth minutes, respectively, before Ryan Mishina put Service on the board in the 27th minute.
The Cougars would get no closer, though, as Chud restored Colony's two-goal lead one minute before the half.
Landon Swank and Gabe Edwards scored early in the second half for the Knights, and Nick VanKirk rounded out Colony's scoring with a tally in the 64th minute.
Brandon Barter scored Service's second goal in the 59th minute.
Juneau-Douglas 3, East 0
The Bears scored three goals in the second half to get past the Thunderbirds in their opening-round match.
Robert Lossett put a goal away just one minute into the second half, and Travis Croteau made it 2-0 in the 66th minute.
Aaron Ver netted Juneau's final tally with 11 minutes left in the match.
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