The Trappers now await to hear their seeding in the national championship tournament, which begins next Monday in Albany, Georgia.
“You couldn’t write this stuff,” said Trapper head coach Rob Hill. “To go from where we were after losing the regional final to winning the district tournament and heading for nationals is just amazing.”
The Trappers opened district play against Yavapai, which entered the game ranked third nationally. The Trappers fell behind early in that contest, conceding a goal four minutes in after being whistled for a penalty kick.
Goalkeeper Cameron Stanek made what Hill described as “a tremendous save” to turn aside the penalty kick, but the Trappers surrendered a goal on the ensuing corner kick.
“That’s how we surrendered goals at the district tournament last season, by not reacting quickly enough to clear the ball on set pieces,” said Hill. “It was troubling to see them go up 1-0 so quickly.”
But the Trappers didn’t fold. Northwest held fast against a speedy Yavapai team. Minutes before the first half ended, the Trappers equalizd on a set piece of their own. Dean Johnson fed the ball on a corner kick into the box, where Marcus Couldridge connected with a header into the net to send the teams to intermission tied at 1-1.
“Yavapai had a lot of threats that first half,” said Hill. “Their speed up front and at midfield is incredible. They caused us all sorts of problems, but we were able to defend well. We didn’t need to make many adjustments at the half.”
Gage Woodward gave the Trappers their first-ever lead in a district tournament game. Woodward slipped between a defender and the Yavapai keeper to head home the Trappers’ second goal early in the second half.
The celebration was short-lived. Thirty seconds later, Yavapai had tied the game.
“Their second goal was the most bizarre thing I’ve seen,” said Hill. “It was a long throw in that bounced in front of our defenders, went over their heads and into the goal. I didn’t think it touched anyone and the linesman agreed, but the head referee overruled him and said it touched one of our guys and allowed the goal to stand.”
The Trappers were able to connect for a counterattack later in the half. Jamie McMorrow connected with a shot to put Northwest into the lead for good. Johnson added an insurance goal with eight minutes remaining, driving home a feed from Devin Farnes.
“Those last eight minutes, they threw everything they had at us and we were defending for our lives,” Hill said. “This is just a massive, massive win for us. Yavapai is a good team and they were classy to the end.”
The victory over Yavapai assured the Trappers of a place in next week’s national tournament, but Northwest had plenty to play for on Saturday when the team faced Western Wyoming for the district championship. For starters, a victory would aid the Trappers’ seeding for next week’s championships. It also provided the Trappers with an opportunity to avenge their regional championship loss to the Mustangs which, at the time, was thought to have ended NWC’s season.
“We looked heavy-legged,” Hill said of the game. “The Yavapai game took a lot out of us emotionally and physically, but this was really our redemption time against Western. We wanted the win.”
Playing on their home field, Western kept the Trappers on their toes with a number of speedy counterattacks down the field, but Stanek and the Trappers’ back row, maligned for their play in the regional final, proved up to the challenge time and again.
“Western is a different kind of team. They play different (from Yavapai),” said Hill. “They didn’t give us much space to play in, so it was a battle. We had some opportunities, but we also seemed really anxious in front of the net.”
The two teams went to intermission with a scoreless tie showing on the scoreboard. Early in the second half, Jamie McMorrow delivered the game’s only goal for Northwest.
“We had a couple other opportunities, but their keeper made some excellent saves against us again,” Hill said. “It was a real battle. I’m pleased that after the disappointment of the regional tournament we were able to come away with it and get the district trophy. The guys fully deserved it.”
The Trappers will leave later this week for Albany, Ga., site of the 2012 national tournament. Northwest will be placed into a three-team pool and is guaranteed one contest against the other two pool teams. The top school from each of the four pools will then advance to the semifinal round.
“I’m not sure where we’ll wind up,” said Hill. “At this level though, anyone we face is going to be a quality opponent. We’ll need to be ready to play.”
Northwest will play its opening national tournament game on either Monday or Tuesday. The schedule will be announced at the same time the tournament seeding is announced.