In boys soccer: Ninth seed Hazen upsets top seeded Lake Region in overtime

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Austin Roberge looks on as Zach Royer pushes the ball up and across the field in the Rangers loss to the Wildcats, Friday.  Photos by David Dudley
Austin Roberge looks on as Zach Royer pushes the ball up and across the field in the Rangers loss to the Wildcats, Friday. Photos by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle October 29, 2014

by David Dudley

The Hazen Union High Wildcats ended the Lake Region Rangers season Friday with a 2-1 victory in overtime. Forward Jake Gilcris scored both goals for the Wildcats, to give them the edge they needed in a messy but exciting game.

As with the Rangers’ last home game, where they defeated the Oxbow Olympians, the field was slippery, muddy, and pockmarked by cleats. To make matters more challenging, it was cold, windy, and a mist engulfed the field for most of the first half of the game. Still, fans were lined up on the hill, stretching the length of the field, finding shelter under canvas canopies and umbrellas.

The Rangers had a slight advantage from the kick-off, as they steadily pressured the Wildcats on both ends of the field. The Rangers defense played with gusto, thwarting each Wildcat push for much of the first half. Meanwhile, the Rangers offense was clicking — as well as could be expected. They were passing the ball and moving off the ball.

But the conditions made it difficult to maneuver. Players clearly couldn’t control themselves. They slipped and slid on the pitch. They collided with one another in pursuit of the ball. They struggled to control the tempo, but neither team could really take control. Though the Rangers were aggressive in the opening half, the Wildcats had no trouble holding their own.

That was a little surprising. When these two teams met for the first time, earlier in the season, the Rangers rolled up an impressive 4-1 victory over the Wildcats. Then, when the two teams met again a few weeks back, the Wildcats came ready to play. Though the Rangers won that second meeting 3-2, the Wildcats had shown that they could hang with the Rangers.

The first half of their third meeting of the season played out no differently. The Wildcats weren’t pushovers by any stretch of the word, but the Rangers had a slight edge in possession.

With 3:24 left in the first half, after a hard-fought, back and forth affair, Logan Harper scored the first and only goal of the afternoon for the Rangers, giving them a 1-0 lead. They celebrated enthusiastically, as the goal was quite possible their hardest earned of the season. Not only were their opponents in top form, but also Mother Nature made the going extra rough.

With 40 seconds left in the first half, Rangers keeper Danny Epinette came out to challenge a Wildcat drive. Too far, in fact: The Wildcats rifled off a shot that sailed wide of the goal. Epinette let out a sigh of relief as he returned to the box.

The Rangers took that 1-0 lead into the half and came back ready to play.

But so did the Wildcats.

In the second half, the two teams were evenly matched. Though the Rangers spent much of the time threatening to score, they just couldn’t get the ball in the net.

The Wildcats kept hanging around. They pressured the ball handlers; they fought at midfield as though there were no tomorrow. They would not be outdone.

Jake Gilcris scored the first goal of the afternoon for the Wildcats after pushing the ball hard upfield. He crossed the middle, where the Rangers defense was waiting. After nearly tripping over one of his own teammates, Gilcris found himself alone just right of the net. He blasted the ball past Epinette to tie the game, 1-1.

Again, it wasn’t pretty, but simply playing on that field was a feat. It must have felt at times like kicking a soggy pumpkin through a peat bog. And the competition was at such a high level. Players on both teams hustled their hearts out, lost their breath, then hustled harder. Nobody wanted to be denied. And yet they were, time and time again. The defense — no matter which side it was — seemed always to have the upper hand.

Rangers Coach Tom Evans (right) shakes the hand of Wildcats forward Jake Gilcris.  Gilcris would go on to score a game-winning goal in overtime for the Wildcats.
Rangers Coach Tom Evans (right) shakes the hand of Wildcats forward Jake Gilcris. Gilcris would go on to score a game-winning goal in overtime for the Wildcats.

Regulation ended with the teams still tied, 1-1.

In overtime, the Rangers came out strong. But again, so did the Wildcats. And they would not be outdone. They had come a long way since the first time these two teams met, back in the early days of the season. They dug deep, searching for that special something that allows a team to transcend themselves, and they found it.

Just a few moments into overtime, the Wildcats pushed the ball deep into Ranger territory. Red shirts crowded the goalie box, where Epinette had held strong all afternoon. After a bit of pinball, the crowd went wild. It was difficult to see who put the ball in the net, or how it happened, exactly, but Gilcris was credited with his second goal of the afternoon, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 lead, effectively ending the Rangers phenomenal season.

After the game, Rangers Coach Tom Evans had only two things to say.

“I love my team,” Coach Evans said. “And hats off to Hazen.”

contact David Dudley at [email protected]

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