Columbia’s dream season came to a nightmarish end in a steady rain Tuesday night.
Alton Marquette senior Collin Dunn’s free kick from midfield skimmed high off the artificial surface and over the head of Eagles sophomore goalie Jon Kuebler at 51 minutes, 19 seconds, and the Explorers made it hold up in a 2-1 victory over the Eagles in the semifinals of the Class 2A Columbia Sectional.
“I just kicked it as far as I could,” said Dunn, a defender whose goal was his first of the season. “We played really well. We knew what they were doing the whole time. We just marked up good and we got the win. It was pretty wild at the end.”
Marquette’s two goals came on just two shots, and it avenged a 6-1 loss to Columbia, the defending Class 1A state champion, on Oct. 15 at Gordon Moore Park in Alton.
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The Explorers (14-6-3), who won the Class 1A state title in 2012, will face Waterloo (21-3-1) in the championship game at 6 p.m. Friday. The teams did not meet in the regular season.
Columbia finished 22-2-1. Its only previous loss had been 2-0 to Columbia (Mo.) Hickman in the Gateway Classic on Oct. 3.
“They won. They beat us 2-1,” a tearful Eagles coach Jason Mathenia said. “It is what is. We can’t change that. We weren’t playing our best soccer tonight by any means. We made mistakes, and even though we made mistakes, we were dominating the game and had two or three clear goals called back. You can’t change those things.”
Two of the goals Mathenia referred to were second-half throw-ins by senior Sean Rickey that were determined not to have deflected off any other player. Sophomore Sam Spivey’s apparent goal in the first half, meanwhile, was wiped out by an off-sides call.
The Eagles applied sustained pressure in the final 15 minutes, but were unable to break Marquette’s defense or senior keeper Brandon Sanfilippo.
Marquette coach Jeremy Sanfilippo was overjoyed by the outcome.
“You’ve just got to play the game,” he said. “Everybody wrote me off against Chatham (Glenwood) and I’m sure everybody wrote me off coming against (Columbia) after a loss to them at home.”
The game, despite its stunning result, wasn’t without precedent. In Class 1A, Gibault suffered a 1-0 loss to Anna-Jonesboro in the semifinals of the Gibault Sectional on Oct. 20 at Oerter Park in Columbia after defeating the Wildcats 6-2 in a regular-season game Sept. 26.
“I told the boys before we got off the bus, ‘Anna-Jonesboro came from a 6-2 deficit to Gibault and came back and beat them in the playoffs. Why can’t Alton Marquette come back and do the same thing?’” Sanfilippo said. “This is huge. This was a team that, all year long, was giving everybody problems. They’re well-coached and have great players over there.
“My players came out and gave what they can do. They performed.”
Senior Adam Hammond gave the Explorers a 1-0 lead at 47:08, scoring in front of the left post. Columbia senior Cameron Roth tied it with a goal from the middle of the box at 48:52. Less than three minutes later, Dunn’s long goal after an Eagles foul put Marquette on top to stay.
“We’re not going to point fingers at any individual players,” Mathenia said. “We lost tonight collectively as a team. It’s sad for these seniors because they’ve put so much into this team and have had such (good) careers at Columbia since I’ve been here. It’s very, very unfortunate. We’ll look forward to rebuilding next year.”
Waterloo junior Ben Huels maintains an even-keeled demeanor on the field and that personality trait paid dividends Tuesday night.
After watching the Bulldogs squander a 2-0 advantage early in the second half, Huels scored the go-ahead goal at 65 minutes, 53 seconds to lift Waterloo to a 3-2 victory over Quincy Notre Dame in the other semifinal match.
Huels accepted a pass from junior Tyler Grob on the right side and converted inside the far post for his second goal of the game and his 25th of the season.
“(Grob) played it on the ground, a perfect ball, and I just buried it,” Huels said matter-of-factly. “That doesn’t (always) happen. I was grateful that one got through. I’m kind of a low-emotion guy; I don’t really show emotion. But I definitely feel it in my head.”
Quincy Notre Dame finished 17-6-1.
The Bulldogs led 2-0 at halftime on goals by Huels, from senior Kane Osterhage, at 6:36 and Osterhage, from junior Philip Most, at 35:32. Osterhage leads Waterloo with 26 goals.
But the lead was wiped out in the first 10 minutes of the half as the Raiders picked up the pace and enjoyed goals by junior Cole Hayes at 46:39 and senior Zack Vahlkamp at 49:48.
Waterloo then inhaled as a shot by Raiders sophomore Macken Little bounced inches outside the right post in the 56th minute.
“I always think the hardest part of the game is the first 10 minutes of each half,” Waterloo coach Chad Holden said. “We talked about that at halftime: ‘They’re going to come out (strong). They’ve got nothing to lose.’ And they did. They had two really good forwards with a lot of speed who could move with the ball.
“We’ve been down before 2-0 and have come back. There’s no reason that they wouldn’t come out fired up, and they did. Luckily, we were able to get that third one, grab our composure. We didn’t put our heads down once they tied it up. We kept fighting.”
Holden confirmed that Huels is a cool customer in all situations and expressed no astonishment that he was able to score when it mattered most.
“He just likes to have fun with it,” Holden said. “That was a great putaway for him.”
Quincy Notre Dame seemed ready to knock the door down after the game-tying goal by Vahlkamp on a splendid feed from the right side by the fleet-footed Hayes.
“I thought we battled well in the second half,” Raiders coach Greg Reis said. “The first half, I was a little disappointed in our effort. I didn’t think we came out and played very well.
“But we’ve been down several times in the season and we’ve been very good going forward all season long, so I wasn’t really concerned about their two-goal lead at halftime because I thought we were going to get our chances in the second half after we fixed a few things.”
But after Little pushed his shot narrowly wide right, the Bulldogs recovered and caught the Raiders flat-footed on Huels’ second goal of the game.
“We were trying to push too much with the 2-2 tie,” Reis said. “We got a bad clear off one of their corners and it dropped right on one of their guy’s feet, and that was the deciding factor.