Late rally propels Mustangs past trappers for Region IX North title
Going into the 87th minute, the Northwest College men’s soccer team was in control against Western Wyoming Community College, holding a 2-1 lead as the final game of the regular season wound down in Rock Springs last week.
But with a home playoff game at stake and the Region IX North title up for grabs, the Mustangs (7-11-1) weren’t content to roll over for the Trappers (5-4-1). The team scored twice in the final minutes to escape with a 3-2 victory over NWC on Oct. 11.
“I have to say, it was definitely a great game, for ourselves and Western Wyoming,” said Trappers head coach Stan Rodrigues. “I think we really showed our abilities; it was just an unfortunate turn of events. But I think everything happens for a reason.”
The Trappers got on the board quickly, as Aaron Kovac found the back of the net in the 11th minute off an assist by captain Ryan Tyrer. WWCC’s Carlos Gonzales answered with a goal of his own just minutes later to tie the game at 1-1, a score that would last well into the second half.
“The first goal we allowed was a poor breakdown in defense,” Rodrigues said. “We didn’t track back fast enough.”
In the 78th minute, NWC sophomore Robert George picked up a rebound off a shot by Carlos Felgueroso, slamming it home for the go-ahead score. After the goal, Rodrigues made some adjustments in an effort to keep the Mustangs on their heels and “try to balance the defense a little more.”
“... Unfortunately when I did that, they started to send more attackers,” the coach said.
A NWC foul at the midfield line led to a free kick by the Mustangs, which Josh Abplanalp directed with his head past keeper Luke Holt to tie the game.
“The second goal, part of it was we weren’t paying attention,” Rodrigues said. “We should have put one person on the ball, and we missed that opportunity.”
A minute later, Colton Harrison scored the gamewinner on a cross by Jesse Lopez, giving WWCC the come-from-behind win.
“That last goal was just an inability to clear a ball that we should have cleared,” Rodrigues said. “A boy put a ball across and it was headed into the goal. It was a good goal. We just got caught.”
The Trappers tend to at times let down a bit in the second half, according to the first-year coach. To be successful in the playoffs, Rodrigues said his team must learn to weather the storm.
Also, in hindsight, “I probably shouldn’t have pushed Aaron [Kovac] back, I should have kept him higher so that we could have kept the pressure on them,” the coach explained. “But I do believe things happen for a reason, and now that the playoff picture has shaken out, I actually think we’re in a good spot.”
Though the Trappers missed an opportunity to host a first-round playoff game, Rodrigues said the team has performed well on the road, and always seems to pick themselves up after a loss. Of the three losses suffered before the WWCC game, the Trappers have responded with a win or tie in the next contest. NWC squares off Saturday against Western Nebraska Community College (11-5) in the first round of the Region IX playoffs, a team they lost 6-3 to earlier this season.
“We played them really well the first time. If we hadn’t pulled a red card, who knows what the outcome would have been,” Rodrigues said. “They, too, have had a good season, and I think it’s going to be a really good matchup.”
Rodrigues said the Trappers will focus on all the season’s positives as they prepare for the trip to Scottsbluff. The team’s ability to not dwell on their losses will bode well for them, and he’s proud of the fortitude they approach each game with.
“They worked so hard to get that opportunity to be the No. 1 seed. They deserve to be there,” Rodrigues said. “But if it doesn’t go our way, it isn’t the end of the world. There are two other teams out there, one in the north and one in the south, that didn’t get into it [the playoffs]. This team always comes back a little stronger. This is not a team of people that break very easily, and I’m very proud of the boys for that reason.”
As for coaching strategy against the Cougars, Rodrigues said he needs to be more aware of what’s working and not focus on defense too early. Both teams have a tendency to score often, something that could make it a very entertaining game to watch.
“WNCC is second in the region for a reason. Their coach has amazing experience. I think overall, we both have our jobs cut out for us. It’s hard to get beat twice by the same team when you have a full 11 on the field; I’m hoping we have that full 11.”