Proving the old adage that it’s difficult to beat the same team three times in one season, the Riverton boys soccer team battled the visiting Powell Panthers to a 1-1 tie in Riverton Friday. They avoided the season sweep and denied the Panthers what would have been the team’s third win on the season.
“The game didn’t go as well as I expected as far as scoring is concerned,” said Powell head coach Jeff Dent. “I was hoping we’d rack up a few more goals; we were expecting a little more to happen up front. But it went really good as far as the quality of play was concerned.”
Down a starter due to illness, Dent played around with different formations in the first half, looking to find the best matchups against a very physical Riverton side. The Wolverines (2-11-1, 2-2) tried to rely on team speed from the outset, forcing the Panthers (2-7-2, 0-3) to adjust.
“Riverton gets into a boot and chase game, and it worked for them last year because they had some speed demons up front,” Dent said. “This year, they’re not quite as fast, so we were able to control that and let the midfielders work the ball around. We stayed with that discipline the whole game, and I was very proud of how the boys handled that.”
Riverton came out very aggressive, Dent said, catching the Panthers a little off guard with their intensity. The Wolverines maintained that intensity into the second half.
“[Riverton] was going very hard and very fast for the whole game,” Dent said. “But even with that, all we had to do was get a touch on the ball, gain the control and turn it back up the field. The boys played their game, and it worked.”
Though both teams created opportunities throughout, the game was scoreless at the end of regulation. Midway through the first overtime half, Panther forward Garrett Stutzman found the back of the net on a free kick from about 30 yards out, giving Powell a 1-0 lead.
“That was a good kick by him,” Dent said of Stutzman’s shot. “The goalie got a finger on it, but it went in. We were controlling the game pretty good at that point.”
Riverton was able to hold off the Panthers for the rest of the first OT half and well into the second. With the clock winding down and a Powell victory in sight, Riverton converted a header on a corner kick with just 24 seconds to play — tying the game at 1-1 and escaping with a draw.
“We had it won; it just got away from us there at the end,” Dent said. “Riverton played us tough, it was an exciting game.”
Panther senior forward Rob Sessions led the team with four shots on goal, and the coach credited Sessions’ aggressive play with providing a spark for the rest of the team.
“Rob [Sessions] played an awesome game, very physical, and he controlled himself very well,” Dent said. “We put Garrett [Stutzman] up on forward for a while, and he played well at that position.”
Steven Shopa also saw action at the forward position, as did freshman Jesse Trotter, usually found roaming the midfield for the Panthers.
“Jesse [Trotter] really looked good up front,” Dent said. “It was a tough game to step into, and I thought he showed he could compete up there.”
Dent also moved senior Jace Smith from his sweeper position on defense to forward at the start of the second overtime half. The move produced results, and Dent said the team may consider using Smith as an attacker again in future games.
“Jace [Smith] was just all over the place up front, really outrunning the Riverton team,” Dent said. “I’m really proud with how he stepped that up and played really good ... He has a nice, aggressive style.”
Senior Gabe Katz was in net the entire game for the Panthers, recording 11 saves.
“Gabe [Katz] played excellent for us; he played solid,” Dent said. “He was in position and moving around, really playing aggressive, coming out to get the ball on long boots — which is something he hasn’t done a lot in the past. He played a smart game.”
The Panthers head south this weekend for a pair of road games against Star Valley and Pinedale, teams they lost to at the start of the season. The team has grown a lot since then, according to Dent, and he expects both games to be highly competitive..
“This week’s practice will be more of encouraging what the boys are doing well so far: control and possession,” Dent said. “We’ll also keep working on finishing drills, keep trying to make things happen there.”
In their last matchup, Powell fell to Star Valley 8-0.
“That’s not going to happen again,” Dent said. “We’re a different team, and it’s going to be a good, quality game.”