Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the physical toll of an overtime loss against another of the state’s best teams the day before, or maybe it was not playing for the state championship like envisioned that caused the sluggish start for the Crimson Bears on Friday in the state soccer tournament’s consolation game.
“Those games, and we haven’t had very many, they are very hard,” JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart said. “I was very worried about that. It is like squeezing blood out of a turnip after you lose a tough one to come out and try and find it in yourselves to play. I was really proud of the guys for doing that.”
Trailing 1-0 in Friday’s elimination game in the consolation bracket on Friday, the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears slumbered… and stirred… and lathered in the hot sun like, well, a team that had just lost a heart breaking game the night before.
Then the North Pole Patriots, who had scored with 13:55 remaining in the first half made the mistake of taunting the 2013 Gatorade Alaska Soccer Player Of The Year, and they did it in front of his teammates.
The North Pole coaching staff said rather loudly that JDHS senior Jackson Lehnhart couldn’t go right, and that he couldn’t score with his right foot.
Lehnhart started to move the ball. All the Crimson Bears began to awaken.
Justin Bellagh laid a slicing corner kick into Ben Scudder who headed it past the Patriots at the 29:35 mark for a 1-1 tie. Three more chances on goal would miss by the Crimson Bears before the half ended.
At the 22:25 mark of the second half, Jackson Lehnhart hit from the middle for a 2-1 JDHS advantage.
Scudder, the defensive coordinator in the backfield, who only stops voicing instructions when he is on the bench (and that was never on Friday), summed up the second half turn-a-round.
“I think it was a big step for us as a team,” Ben Scudder said. “We are not used to losing, and I am not being cocky, we don’t get a lot of really intense competition in southeast. Trying to play after a big loss like that and still knowing that we have something to play for, I was really impressed by the way we all stepped up. Colony was the most physical game I have ever played in and we felt that aftermath today.”
Scudder had a hefty defensive assignment against North Pole, stopping Patriots senior forward Anthony Gibson.
“The first half I couldn’t run full speed,” Scudder said. “The second half I could, but either way he was faster than me so we had to double team him for sure. Once we figured that out we shut him down and he didn’t get any chances.”
Antonio Hafferty put in a shot at the 16:39 mark, with an assist by Stuart Thurston, to give JDHS a 3-1 advantage.
“After yesterday’s loss a lot of us were not happy about that,” JDHS’ Stuart Thurston said. “Being tied at the half made it kind of nervous but then we came back.”
Thurston also played the entire 40 minutes.
“The first half we lacked energy,” Thurston said. “We weren’t moving. In the second half we tried a lot harder, we moved the ball, and we got a lot more shots. We wanted to win and that is what we did.”
The Patriots first half taunts had now changed to a second half plea to North Pole players of, “Don’t stop playing, if you stop playing this could get really ugly.”
With 8:33 remaining in the game, the Gatorade Alaska Soccer Player Of The Year approached a loose ball at the North Pole end line.
He tapped the ball from left to right, dribbled with his off foot around two defenders and then put a nifty stutter step dribble past the charging keeper.
He dribbled all alone along the goalmouth. He tapped a soft shot into a defenseless net… with his right foot.
(JDHS will play Wasilla for fourth place at 9:45 a.m. today, Dimond plays West for third place at 1:15 p.m. and Colony plays South at 5:45 p.m. for the state title).