Five minutes into its much-anticipated BNC soccer game with Stillman Valley, Oregon took a 1-0 lead and held service the rest of way for a 2-1 win.
“It’s exciting to have a win like this,” said first-year Hawk coach Ben Thomas. “Our seniors told me this was the first time they have beaten them.”
Before sending his team onto the field, Thomas stressed the need to out-work Stillman and set the tone for the game. Good listeners they are; the Hawks did exactly that.
Two minutes into the contest, Ian Holley broke free for a close-in open shot on net. Though it was stopped by Steig Theden, the Hawks continued to attack offensively.
Matt Ajvazi made it 1-0 with an unassisted goal three minutes later. Jake Adams corner kick bounced off a SV player into Ajvazi’s field of play and quick reactions by Ajvazi resulted with the goal.
“It was a perfect cross by Adams,” Ajvazi said.
“It was a bad clear by us,” SV coach Lyn Larsen said.
SV tied the game 1-1, on a breakaway goal by Angel Pineda. It was one of the few errors made defensively by Oregon, as Pineda broke free of the Hawk defense.
“We still need to work on winning the ball out of air and on possession,” Thomas said. “We’re improved, though. Mark Schmidt is our soft-spoken leader that keeps people in position.”
Holley had a couple more shots on goal that were stopped in the first half, but his hustle resulted in the field being open for others.
“Ian got the ball down low and created a lot of chances,” Ajvazi said.
“I know my spot,” Holley said. “I make the run defenders follow me and try to give Matt wide-open goals.”
With five minutes left in the first half, Oregon got a huge break.
After a SV penalty for a dangerous play (high kick), the Hawks were awarded a free kick near the goal. Holley initially faked like he was going to kick it, but backed off and allowed Tommy McCormick to come up from behind and put the ball into the corner of the net for a 2-1 lead.
“We’ve never worked on that play before,” Thomas said.
Larsen was unhappy that Oregon was allowed the penalty kick. “That call was controversial,” she said.
Ajvazi, who was fouled several times during the game, also sat the last 15 minutes of the first half after a serious collision with a SV player.
Things got even testier in the second half between the officials and both teams. Ajvazi was given a yellow card for persistent infractions, which Thomas vehemently protested.
“They’re our biggest rivals and it was getting heated,” Ajvazi said. “We kept our cool and they were getting desperate. I think everyone was getting tired.”
Ajvazi himself was heard taunting the Stillman bench once, Thomas was warned for being out of the coaching box, Stillman’s Pineda eventually got a red card (disqualification) and Mestin Lenth of Stillman came close to reprimand for questioning the officiating after a non-call.
“Things got out of hand. I wish the refs took better control,” Larsen said.
Lost in the all the activity on the field was a stellar effort by goalkeeper Alec Ketter in holding the high-scoring Cardinals to one goal. He also had a diving save in the first half.
“That was his best game of the year,” Thomas said.
With the win, Oregon moves to 6-2-1, while Stillman falls to 5-2-1.
“It was mostly their offense, not the defense that made the difference,” Larsen said.
“We had very unselfish play from everyone,” Thomas said. “On attack, we moved well off the ball, allowing Tommy to come in. McCormick’s work rate and understanding in midfield allowed the forwards to move off the ball.”
It should be noted that Stillman was playing without Leo Lenth, one three Lenth brothers on the team. Lenth, who led the area in scoring last year with 44 goals, dislocated his shoulder in the previous game.
“That’s a big place to fill. It definitely impacted the game,” Larsen said.
“They missed Leo - he’s a great player,” Ajvazi said. “He wouldn’t have made the difference, though.”
Oregon and SV will meet Sept. 24 for a rematch at Stillman Valley.
“I’m looking forward to playing them again,” Thomas said.