Boys’ Soccer: Surprise teams make it a memorable championship duel

Two teams that weren’t necessarily expected to be there provided fans a rousing battle in the state Class AA boys soccer championship game.

Blaine senior midfielder Ian Durbin, left, heads the ball clear during the Class AA boys’ soccer final played at Metrodome Nov. 1. Photo by Bill Jones

After a physical duel featuring multiple scoring opportunities by both teams, Eastview prevailed in Thursday night’s game at the Metrodome, edging Blaine 3-2 on senior midfielder Jacob Opheim’s goal with 16:29 remaining.

It was the first time in six years the Class AA boys title game had been decided by one goal. Eastview left the Metrodome with a sense of fulfillment after losing in the state final a year ago. For Blaine, the feeling was that the program had taken an important step even though it came up just short of the championship.

Eastview lost nine starters from last year’s state runner-up team and was 10th in the preseason state rankings. The Lightning (15-2-5), which at midseason had more ties than victories, finished on a nine-game winning streak.

“It’s crazy,” Eastview coach Scott Gustafson said. “There were so many questions about us at the beginning of the season. But our guys are great competitors, and they believed in themselves.”

Blaine (16-4-1) was unranked going into the season but reached the championship game for the first time in 11 state tournament appearances.

Eastview never trailed Thursday night but could never get comfortable against a Blaine team that showed an ability to strike quickly and often.

“They have a powerful offense,” Opheim said of the Bengals. “If they’re not the best team we’ve faced, then they’re the team that played us the best.”

Blaine outshot Eastview 11-9. “I really thought we had the majority of the play,” Bengals coach Berry Arrowsmith said. “But Eastview did a great job, worked hard and finished its opportunities.”

Eastview scored 2:11 into the game when Jack Teske pressured a Blaine defender into giving up a corner kick. The kick by Sam Fluegge hit traffic in front of the goal and deflected to Michael Stockton, who headed it in.

The Bengals needed just four minutes to respond. Ian Durbin and Mitch Boege worked the ball into the box. Durbin took the first shot and hit the goalpost. But the rebound went to Boege, who knocked it in with Eastview goalkeeper Kyle Lamott down and out of position.

Eastview regained the lead midway through the first half. Fluegge sent a free kick into the Blaine penalty area and three players –  Opheim, Blaine goalkeeper Tyler Carlson and a Blaine defender – converged on it. Opheim got his head on the ball first and directed it into the goal.

Another rebound allowed Blaine to tie the game in the 61st minute. With the Bengals pressuring in the Eastview penalty area, Zach Brunko took a shot that the Lightning defense blocked. But the ball came to senior midfielder Zachary Wright, who had a opening to put it on net.

With 16:29 remaining, Pierce Erickson found Opheim open about six yards in front of the Blaine goal and Opheim converted for a 3-2 lead. It was the senior midfielder’s team-leading 17th goal of the season.

Opheim described himself as the beneficiary of great playmaking by teammates. “The first one, Sam (Fluegge) kicked a perfect ball – right to my head,” he said. “When you get it in that position, you have a good chance to score.

“The second one, Pierce (Erickson) put it on my foot in front of the goal. You’ve got to finish those.”

Eastview High School, which opened in 1997, did not win a state championship in a boys sport until June 2012. But now the school has state titles in three different boys sports (lacrosse, baseball and soccer) in five months.

Instead of viewing Thursday’s game as an opportunity lost, Arrowsmith said it might set the stage for future success at Blaine. Eleven players on the state tournament roster are underclassmen.

“It’s a great group of kids,” Arrowsmith said. “We lose some outstanding seniors, and that’s going to be huge, but our JV team did well and we had a ninth-grade team that was undefeated. My assistant coaches are phenomenal, and the Blaine Soccer Club does a great job of finding players for us. We’ll regroup.”
For a blueprint, the Bengals need look no further than Eastview because the Lightning knows plenty about regrouping.

Mike Shaughnessy is at mike.shaughnessy@ecm-inc.com

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