HILLSBORO — Contact and a contact were a big deal for the Philomath Warriors on Saturday night at Liberty High School.
Playing La Salle Prep for the 4A boys soccer state championship, Matt St. Clair scored twice after free kicks and that lifted the Warriors to a 2-1 overtime victory and their first state title.
Both free kicks followed Falcons’ fouls.
As for the contact, that was goalie Ben Michaud’s and it went missing in the first eight minutes of action after La Salle Prep’s Dakota Eisel crashed into him.
“As the goalie, you have got to make saves,” Michaud said. “He was just coming at me so fast, I tried to get my hands up there and then he hit me and I hit the ground. When I looked up I couldn’t really see out of this (left) eye.
“I have really bad vision, so I wear contacts. I guess it popped out on the field.”
That brought about a stoppage in play while Michaud got a new contact. When action resumed, the Falcons continued to press the attack.
Eisel broke through two defenders, feinted right and shot left past Michaud in the 11th minute. While it sent La Salle Prep (16-3) boosters into gleeful celebration, it didn’t break the Warriors (13-2-3).
“We knew they were going to come hard, that’s what they’ve done all year, and on turf, they’re a fast team, it kind of plays to their strengths,” PHS coach Anton Grube said. “They got the goal and we knew we had to hold them. Then we felt that we were going to be more fit, and we had to use that fit to our advantage. Then in the second half we had a whole lot more chances.”
After getting just one shot in the first half – and that from 47 yards away – the Warriors turned the contest to their favor.
As the Falcons tired and were turned away time and again, the Warriors began to make long runs up the sideline. They didn’t always get to a point of being able to shoot, but it further drained the energy from their foes. That led to more and more physical play and the fouls began to mount.
An adjustment St. Clair asked for made a huge difference in the second half.
“At halftime Matt asked to play up on top,” Grube said. “He’s a senior, he’s been playing great for me all year. That’s what he’s been doing lately, playing up top. And he got some chances and put them away.”
St. Clair tied the game in the 69th minute, heading in William Karlsson’s free kick.
“I just followed the ball off of Will’s foot,” St. Clair said. “They weren’t marking me all that tight.”
While La Salle Prep had blasted the opposition aside entering the title game – outscoring foes 12-0 – the Warriors had battled their way to the final. They knocked out No. 1 McLoughlin in the semifinals on penalty kicks and that experience paid big dividends.
Both Eisel and David Lillie — La Salle Prep’s two captains — received yellow cards in the final 60 minutes. Lillie’s was a killer, as it set the stage for St. Clair’s game-winner.
A free kick went to Stephen Coskey, who popped the ball toward the goal, where St. Clair finished it past Dylan Tran with 8:31 remaining in the second overtime.
“I would have to say those were the longest eight minutes of my life,” Michaud said. “It’s incredible. It was ‘hey, let’s make a play’ look back at the clock and 30 seconds is gone. Then 15 seconds. I was wondering how long is it going to take?”
It took all of 8:20. The last 11 seconds flashed off the scoreboard on a final defensive stand that saw the ball blasted out toward midfield for one final time.
“We knew from the last game with McLoughlin that we had to protect our goal,” Coskey said. “We just had to bring some people back.”
Defense was the Warriors’ hallmark all season. It wasn’t about to fail them at the end.
Michaud finished with four saves while facing 13 shots. La Salle Prep’s Tran had three saves facing nine shots.
LSP also had six corner kicks — four in the first half — usually a sign of control of the game. PHS did not have a corner in the contest, but it came away with the big gold soccer ball and blue trophy.
Philomath 2, La Salle Prep 1 (OT)
LSP: Dakota Eisel, 10:03
PHS: Matt St. Clair (William Karlsson), 68:29
PHS: St. Clair (Stephen Coskey), 91:29