Boys' Soccer: Kuemper Catholic fends off Greene County, ends historic inaugural campaign
By BRANDON HURLEY
Take a moment to exhale.
That was as good as it gets.
High level, back-and-forth, breathtaking soccer.
Fantastic ball-handling, a pair of crowd pleasing equalizers, clutch defense and jubilation all in the name of postseason glory.
Wednesday’s substate semifinal had it all, beginning with a bang a mere 19 seconds in and never let up.
In the end, the Kuemper Catholic boys’ soccer team fought off a pesky and immensely talented Greene County squad, 3-2 in Denison to advance to Saturday’s final.
The hard-fought victory puts the Knights just one game from a return to state, in another rematch, this time against the ninth-ranked Gilbert Tigers.
Greene County twice fought back from one goal deficits and played on the attack for most of the game, but the Knights came through when it mattered most, extending their season on Caden Pedelty’s victory-clinching header with 14 minutes to play.
The Knights took Greene County’s best punches, and though it kept Kuemper on their heels most of the night, they persevered and came out on top.
“I think it says a lot about our mental toughness,” Kuemper head coach Ryan Isgrig said following the thrilling win. “Our kids battled all game. Greene County is a very impressive program in their first year. It's a true test of our mental toughness.
They out-possessed us, they out-shot us. But our kids kept battling and we knew that all it takes is one chance to get out here and get a win.”
Colton Irlbeck’s long free kick set up Pedelty’s game-winning header as he lofted it over Kyle Peters’ outstretched arms, breaking a nearly 35 minute drought after a four-goal first half. The two teams combined for more than 20 shots throughout the 80-minute match and showcased a dizzying display of footwork and ball movement.
After Kuemper’s Victor Ceballos burst his way down the near side of the field and punched home a goal less than 30 seconds into the game, it seemed as though the Knights would roll. Greene County hadn’t handled early deficits well throughout the spring, and it looked as though Wednesday would have a similiar outcome.
But the Rams responded valiantly, and once Marques tied it at the 15-minute mark, the offense flipped in Greene County’s favor. They kept the pressure on, tallying nearly 10 shots in the first half as the two teams entered the break tied at two.
“We responded much better than we have all season long,” Greene County head coach Carl Behne said. “I would say that was our one of our worst moments of flatness in the beginning there, but definitely the best that we've responded to those goals. Oftentimes, it takes us a long time to kind of get our feet back under us.”
The chances were plentiful for the upstart Rams, playing on the heels of their first-ever postseason win in their inaugural season. The state’s second leading scorer in all classes, Leo Marques (36 goals), captured an early first half goal and kept the pressure on for the remainder of the game, recording seven shots. He fired several strikes just a tad wide in the second half and even saw a ball viciously ricochet off the left post with the score tied at two.
It was truly a game of near misses for the Heart of Iowa Conference squad.
“It’s the difference of just putting the ball on goal a couple of times,” Behne said. “I haven’t looked at the stats to see how many shots on goal we had that second half, but we had an insane amount of chances. it just didn’t fall for us.”
The Kuemper defense held just tight enough to keep the potent Ram offense and their 75 goals off the scoreboard for the remaining 40 minutes.
Freshman goalkeeper John Mayhall played a pivotal role in that second half shutout. He displayed an uncanny bravery to leave his post and turn back several breakaways while stopping an array of powerful strikes. The rookie was the quiet MVP in the Knight’s second straight nail-biting playoff win.
“John’s been very, very impressive all year. We have great goalkeeper depth on this team and I think they've all made each other better,” Isgrig said. “As a freshmen, he's fearless back there. Goalkeeper is not an easy position to play by any means.
You’re like the quarterback out there. In my opinion, it's one of the toughest positions to play in sports. John's definitely played outstanding and he's a huge reason that we're moving on.”
Greene County (10-8) wraps up their inaugural season two games shy of the state tournament after tallying a school-record setting 10 wins, thanks to an incredible 76 goals in 19 games, the fifth best total in the state, across the three classes. Leo Marques, a senior foreign exchange student, set an individual mark that should stand for quite awhile, amassing a ridiculous 36 goals, the second best total across all glasses. Sophomore Junior Gutierrez chipped in 19 goals to finish in a tie for eighth in Class 1A.
“This was a fantastic group of kids,” an emotional Behne said Wednesday night.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For a more detailed season recap, pick up a copy of next week’s Jefferson Herald (May 31).