The Juneau-Douglas boys' soccer team was too good for Wasilla on Thursday as the Crimson Bears' depth proved valuable in a 3-1 opening-round victory over the Warriors.
With the temperature already a factor, the game became emotionally charged as the two sides combined for four yellow cards after several heated exchanges.
But cooler heads prevailed as the Crimson Bears were able to control the tempo of the game for most of the afternoon.
"It was a rough game. I think both teams were really playing hard and wanted it, and there were some collisions," Bears coach Gary Lehnhart said. "It's been a long time since I've coached in a game where we got three yellow cards."
But Lehnhart said his deep bench helped overcome the emotional and physical heat of the match.
"Our depth helped us, especially in the first half," he said. "We were able to keep putting bodies in there and keeping people fresh paid dividends."
Junior forward Rhett Bennett, who was named Player of the Game, scored two first-half goals to send the Bears into the half up 2-0.
"I think the team did great. Our defense was really solid and (Wasilla) didn't get near our goal," he said. "Our offense was just making beautiful runs, and we're really known for our crosses and running through the diagonals. And that's what we did."
Bennett's first goal came at the 18-minute mark after an Andy Lawson shot attempt was deflected, giving Bennett a chance to sneak in and stick the ball past the keeper to make it 1-0 in favor of Juneau-Douglas.
Junior Riley Paul assisted on Bennett's second goal in the 34th minute with a through ball down the center of the field. Bennett was able to make a long run and finish in the box with his left foot as a Warrior defender made a last-ditch effort to get to the ball.
Up 2-0 at the half, Juneau-Douglas did not let off the gas as junior forward Luc Rondeau's cross into the box left senior forward Victor Wilson an open opportunity for the Bears' third and final goal in the 54th minute.
Wasilla's lone score came on a Dustin Hout free kick from 20 yards away that bent around the defensive wall and scorched the net in the upper right corner to make the score 3-1.
The Crimson Bears earned a spot in the winner's bracket semifinals and will face the No. 2-seeded Colony Knights, which defeated West Anchorage at Adair-Kennedy Field. JDHS (20-1-3) will have its hands full with a Knights (16-0-2) team that went undefeated through the regular season and beat the same Wasilla team 3-2 in overtime of its final Northern Lights Conference game.
But Bennett and his Crimson Bears teammates are confident in the way they are playing at this point, and feel good about their chances today.
"I feel really good," he said. "I think it's going to turn out well."
Lehnhart said although he doesn't know much about Colony, he points to history as a guide.
"Historically, they're always a good side and they come to play," he said. "We're just going to do what we do and hope it's good enough."
On top of Bennett's strong performance, Lehnhart said it was great to have junior forward Max Smith back in the lineup after he missed time with a hip injury.
"Having Max back today made a big difference," he said. "He really brought a lot of energy to our attack, and he created a lot of things for us.
"I thought he had a dynamite game for us, and I thought our defense did really well," he continued. "We played pretty steady."
The Crimson Bears will square off against Colony at 5 p.m. today at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
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