By Keith Knepp
SOUTH BEND — Soccer matches can be frustrating to watch. But sometimes, they’re even more frustrating to play and coach.
Regardless of the sport being played, when it comes to IHSAA tournament time, nearly every team loses its final game. In soccer, that means only six squads, one in each size classification for both the boys and girls will eventually earn the blue-stoned ring.
The Panthers were sent home not because of a dazzling run and marvelous kick by a Fort Wayne Canterbury forward, but rather by the exciting but tremendously dissatisfying actuality of penalty kicks. The match played Saturday at Leighton Field on the campus of South Bend St. Joe went scoreless through regulation and bonus ball, and after four rounds of a penalty shootout, the Canterbury Cavaliers are back in the IHSAA state finals once again.
After 80 back-and-forth minutes of action between the two evenly matched sides, the game turned to a seven-minute overtime period. When neither team found the net in that extended time, the referees wound the clock for a second extra stanza. When that seven minutes went by without a goal, it set the stage for the dreaded penalty kicks to determine which team would move on to the state championship match next weekend in greater Indianapolis.
Of the three northern semi-state matches contested on the South Bend pitch on Saturday, two would come down to the tie-breaking system that leaves one team moving on and the other wondering “what if.” The first match of the day say the Chesterton boys team moving on to the 3-A state championship match over Fishers, which made the long trip up from Hamilton County, in what was sure to be an even longer trip home.
For those unfamiliar with the penalty kick process, each team chooses its five best shooters to kick against the opponent’s goalkeeper from 12 yards away. The shots are taken in alternating fashion, mono v. mono. Man vs man. One on one.
NorthWood had the first opportunity to chalk a notch on the board with Sebastian Guillen taking the ball from the referee. His shot sailed true, finding the upper right corner of the frame against Canterbury’s 6’2″, 205-pound sophomore manchild keeper Saed Anabtawi. When Canterbury’s first shooter, Zach Tempel, had his shot denied by NorthWood’s senior keeper Andrew Graber, the Panthers were in the driver’s seat to punch their ticket to a state final.
After second shot makes by NorthWood’s Kayden Newcomer and Canterbury’s Coleman Mauch, things remained in NorthWood’s control. In the third round of kicks, Panther Chandler Bontrager shot was blocked by Anabtawi while his Cavalier counterpart Yahya Jan converted against Graber, evening the tally at 2-2.
“You just never know,” said NorthWood head coach Brad Duerksen. “I hate PK shootouts, I despise them. When we went to them, I looked to my coaches and said this isn’t going to be good either way. Win or lose in a PK shootout, I just don’t like it. That’s part of the game. We’re feeling pretty good after the first two. That’s part of PK’s, you never know.”
Controversy erupted in the fourth round as NorthWood’s Joey Eshelman’s boot hit the crossbar but also appeared to catch some of the net before bounding back into the goal box. The referees disagreed with the NorthWood coaching staff’s protestations and denied the goal. Canterbury’s Danny Martinez then cooly put his shot past Graber giving the team in blue the advantage and putting the weight of the NorthWood season on the shoulders of their all-time leading scorer, Andre De Freitas.
The Panthers most successful season in its 26-year history came to a close when De Freitas’s shot was brilliantly blocked by Anabtawi, making Canterbury’s final shot irrelevant and giving the Cavaliers a 3-2 penalty kick advantage with no NorthWood shooters remaining.
“Whether we win one-oh or lose one-oh, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” said Duerksen shortly after the disappointing loss. “This one game isn’t going to make a difference. I thought we were the better team, we just couldn’t put it away. We were telling them it was important to get that one goal in regulation, and we just couldn’t get it.
“I’m just happy for the guys on the season they had and that’s what I wanted to tell them. Don’t hang your heads because you made a heckuva season. I know our ultimate goal was to get down to state, and we fell a little short. Just proud of the way we played all season. Proud of our senior leadership.”
When asked about when and whether Canterbury was playing the match in an effort to get it down to penalty kicks, Duerksen replied: “They are a very defensive oriented team, and I felt that when the whistle blew at the beginning of the game they came forward more than I thought they would, to be honest. I thought with 20 minutes left in the game they seemed content with sitting back a little bit more. We tried rolling up our outside defenders to get a little offense but just weren’t able to capitalize on it.”
Canterbury (13-4-5) advances to next weekend’s 2-A state championship match against Evansville Memorial, which defeated Guerin Catholic 4-3 in Seymour.
NorthWood ends their campaign 15-4-3, saying goodbye to its top two all-time leading scorers in De Freitas and Guillen. Saturday’s match also proved to be the last time in red and black for Graber, Newcomer, Bontrager, Marshall Beebe, Nick Lechlitner, Ryne Flickinger, Kyle Cripe, Cam Iwema and Kevin Newton. The 11 seniors will leave NorthWood as the winningest class in the program’s history.
“I’m phenomenally proud of these guys,” Duerksen concluded. “They are just a great group of guys. This is the best soccer team I have coached in 24 years, and that says a lot. Not just talent-wise, but the effort they gave. Just their work ethic all year. Their attitude. It’s just been a pleasure to coach them more than anything.”