The whole Jefferson City soccer team mobbed coach Scott Blake and broke out into song on a frigid night at Battle High School.
“Campeones, Campeones, Ole Ole Ole.”
Six of the last seven years, Jefferson City ended its season at the hands of Rock Bridge, but they finally exorcised those demons with a 1-1 (5-4) penalty shootout win over the Bruins in the Class 4 District 9 Championship game Thursday night.
The Jays were 0-7 versus the Bruins in the playoffs in program history, but a down-to-the wire win over a higher-ranked Rock Bridge team finally turned the tide.
“History has to turn,” Blake said. “History comes back on itself on occasion, so why not us?”
Toby Hughes was the hero for the Jays in the shootout with three saves and relished the game-deciding showdown between him and Rock Bridge goalkeeper Cooper Deneke.
“Definitely a dream,” Hughes said. “Thats’ the big thing for keepers to make that save in the shootout to make the crowd go wild.”
Early on, it looked like the Jays had the game wrapped up in regulation.
The Bruins dominated possession early, but it was Jefferson City who struck first on the counter attack in the 13th minute courtesy of Ethan Blake.
Rock Bridge was chasing a goal for the rest of the night, and the team looked out of luck until a miscommunication between Hughes and the backline left a loose ball in front of an open goal. Jeremiah Johnson pounced on it to level the game in the 69th minute.
“It was a relief, man,” Bruins coach Scott Wittenborn said. “Soccer is one of those crazy sports where you feel like you’re playing fantastic but it doesn’t always equate to goals.”
Both teams failed to break the deadlock for the next 11 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime. Bruins striker Lucas Godon had his shot tipped over the bar in the first period and the stadium let out a collective gasp after the potential winner was dealt with by Hughes.
Rock Bridge benefitted from Hickman’s inability to finish late chances in its semifinal victory on Tuesday, but the Bruins got a taste of their own medicine when Hughes stopped three shots in a row in the waning minutes of overtime to force a penalty shootout.
“I was confident we were going to win the game,” Bruins coach Scott Wittenborn said. “I thought we were in control of the game, even when they scored on us. I thought we were outplaying them. It was one of the best games our guys played all year.”
Will Kuster and Aaron VanDyke started the shootout with two makes for the Jays and Bruins. Deneke got a hand on the next attempt by Darby Hall, but it was tipped into the net.
Things got interesting when Will Linder’s shot was met by a diving Hughes, but Deneke saved the next spot-kick by Zach Leary. Karsen Schweikert finished his shot to level the shootout at 2-2 after three rounds.
It was down to Matthew Cathro and Ethan Blake, and both buried their chances. Blake fired a rocket into the top corner that nearly broke through the net.
Jays striker Breck McGrail was next up to start the final round. The striker put a lot of power behind his shot, but it proved to be too much when the ball flew over the crossbar.
The miss put the game at the feet of Bruins senior Preston Fancher, the engine for the Bruins for the entire season. Wittenborn said he might have the most wins in program history as a three-year varsity starter.
The midfielder took two strides and ripped his shot to the left, but it was met by a diving Hughes who brought the Jays back from the dead with a save that sent the shootout to sudden death.
The sixth shooter for Jefferson City wasn’t an outfield player, but instead it was Hughes, who stepped up to the spot face-to-face with his fellow goalkeeper.
Deneke won the battle with a save, but Hughes redeemed himself by smothering another game-winning attempt by the Bruins, this one by Sergio Pico.
“It was good knowing that we were able to make up for our mistakes and still be able to come out on top,” Hughes said.
Bassil Ahmen and Godon traded makes to send the shootout to an eighth round, where Jays defender Travis Smith put the pressure back on the Bruins with a make.
That put the game at the feet of freshman Cooper Allen, who hadn’t seen much game time for the Bruins but was taken off the bench for the penalty.
Allen’s shot looked good when the ball flew left and Hughes dove right.
Allen turned, put his hands on his head while a hush went over the crowd at Battle.
“I was thinking of how lucky I was,” Hughes said. “I went the wrong way and I saw it bounce out and it was a relief.”
After it seemed like time stopped, Hughes and the Jays realized the ball had bounced off the woodwork and mobbed each other in celebration before lifting the district trophy and breaking into song.
While the Jays serenaded the night, the Bruins stood on the other side of the field. The overtime drama dealt a cruel final act to a 21-5 season highlighted by an upset of the No. 16 team in the country in Gateway Christian Academy.
The Bruins lose senior Fancher and goalkeeper Deneke, but return their attacking duo of Godon and Jeremiah Johnson to lead next year’s team season.