Rock Bridge’s attack lead the team on a four-game win streak, but the unit was nowhere to be found Tuesday night against Jefferson City.
The matchup of two of the top teams in mid-Missouri ended with the Bruins falling to the Jays 2-0.
The Bruins (13-3) were ranked third in Missouri Class 4 according to the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association Poll on Sept. 27. Jefferson City (12-3) would have been ranked 11th if the rankings extended that far.
The Jays stayed packed in their 4-4-2 formation to stifle the potent Bruins’ offense, handing Rock Bridge its second shutout loss of the season.
“Our defensive structure is what carries us through the season,” Jefferson City coach Scott Blake said. “The biggest question for us is being balanced with defense and attack, and I think we showed both tonight.
“If you can defend you’ll get chances, and that’s something we live by.”
The defensive setup kept Rock Bridge from finding success on long-balls to attackers Jeremiah Johnson and Lucas Godon while also keeping the Bruins from setting up crosses out wide.
“They are always very organized,” Bruins coach Scott Wittenborn said. “Jefferson City does a fantastic job of training their team to play the style they want to play. I thought I just got out-coached tonight.”
The teams looked destined for a stalemate in the first half, but a mishit header by Will Linder with four minutes left in the half left Cooper Deneke exposed and gave Jefferson City an open net as the ball trickled past both of them.
“That’s a play that Will Linder makes 99 out of 100 times,” Wittenborn said. “He miss-hit the header and it goes right to him and that puts us down and deflates us. We didn’t respond great to it but that’s soccer.”
The miscue gave Ethan Blake, the son of Scott Blake, an open net, and the Jeff City forward took advantage of the chance and gave the Jays a 1-0 lead going into the break.
Blake got behind the Bruins’ defense again in the second half, sending a cross to Breck McGrail, who doubled the Jays’ lead in the 46th minute.
“All parts of the game he was kind of clicking tonight,” Scott Blake said. “I thought it was a good night for him ... He understands how we want to play because he has been around that for awhile.”
Jefferson City held firm defensively for the rest of the night and stifled a typically potent Bruins’ offense for a 2-0 victory. The Jays were able to hold onto possession and win balls out of the midfield to give the Bruins little to work with on offense.
“I think it was more us than it was them,” Wittenborn said. “Hats off to them; they played a great game but they were first to every 50-50 ball and they challenged everything ... I thought my guys played hard but we didn’t have that something extra we’ve had throughout the year.”
Jeremiah Johnson was taken down at the edge of the box with 11 minutes left in the first half. Johnson limped off the field and didn’t return for the rest of the period before coming back at the start of the second half.
Johnson has been dealing with a toe contusion, according to Wittenborn, and defender Karsen Schweikert also missed part of the second half with a sprained ankle.
“We were a little short-handed, but that’s no excuse,” Wittenborn said.
Rock Bridge will likely get another crack at the Jays in the postseason with both teams on a collision course for the Class 4 District 9 championship game in November. Both teams will be highly favored over Battle (3-11) and Hickman (5-8), the other two teams in the district.
“It’s not the big one,” Blake said. “The big one is in the playoffs. I think it is possible for both of us to meet in the playoffs, but I won’t look past anybody.”
Wittenborn said he would make a few adjustments, but he wanted to keep those up his sleeve.
“We’ll get better and we’ll be alright,” Wittenborn said.