Chris Murphy and Mark DeLaPiedra
Special to West Valley Preps
GILBERT – Once again, 3A sports powerhouses Northwest Christian and Yuma Catholic squared off at a huge playoff game in Gilbert.
And, as in football, the underdog Crusaders stayed alive and found a way to knock off the Shamrocks in overtime. This time the venue was Williams Field High School for a 3A semifinal Feb. 12.
#1 Yuma Catholic was pursuing its fifth straight state title. But in the second 10-minute overtime period, after a total of 93 minutes, #4 Northwest Christian capitalized on a long throw-in from senior Jacob Johnson to junior forward Michael Huss.
With a defender pinned to his back, Huss effortlessly turned and sent a measured shot into the upper part of the net. It was 2-1 Crusaders and they would hang on to book a place in the 3A state finals Feb. 15.
“Beating Yuma in the semi is huge for us. We lost to them two years ago in this same spot. The Juniors and Seniors on the team remember that game well and we talked about it at practice Monday,” Northwest Christian coach Jeremy Witt stated in an email. “We didn’t create really any opportunities offensively but the few we did have we put away. We were also down a man when we scored the second. For me it makes it more special to see the boys come together, find the heart and passion to compete and get the win with being a man down against Yuma Catholic.”
Only one thing tempers their celebration. Northwest Christian knocked off the most dominant program in 3A.
To claim the state title, the Crusaders now have to beat the former most dominant squad in 4A. Scottsdale Coronado is the No. 3 seed and plastered #2 Phoenix Veritas Prep 8-0 in the other semifinal Feb. 12.
Cornonado and Northwest Christian battle for the title at 5 p.m. Feb. 15 at Williams Field, Though none of today’s Crusaders players or coaches took part in 2014, the Dons lifted the Division III title win a 4-0 win in the final that year.
“Coronado is going to be another really tough game for us. They handled us easily when we met earlier in the season, but we are not the same team that played against them during the regular season as I’m sure they are not either,” Witt stated. “. If we get caught watching or on our heels they will make us pay. We just have to play our game clean up our mistakes and be tight defensively. Most of all we have to have fun, that’s been the key to this years team.”
Although Yuma Catholic dominated ball possession and shots on goal Tuesday, it was a stalemate in the first half.
The Shamrocks took the lead early in the second half on a goal by Jonah Franco.
In the last two minutes of the second half, on a desperation free kick from midfield, Crusaders goalie Ben Ogan sent a booming ball towards the Yuma goal while defender Liam O’Neill disrupted the keeper.
The ball ricocheted off the goalie’s outstretched hands and leveled the score at 1-1 just before the end of regulation.
Yuma Catholic was momentarily stunned but continued their relentless attack in overtime, until Huss scored.
With its first lead of the game, Northwest Christian continued to show the same resolve and defensive commitment. The Crusaders held the Shamrocks scoreless for the final seven minutes to advance.
“I think we held Yuma’s leading goal scorer from receiving the ball most of the time. He still received it more than we wanted and he is very good with the ball on his foot. We made them work to push into the final third. They play a really exciting game and its fun to watch them move around and create space,” Witt stated. “I feel like we took that space as they pressed toward goal. Our back 4 (Johnson, O’Neill, Gibson, DeLaPiedra) worked well together to stop Yuma as they pressed to the box, and our midfield dropped in to take that space. We had a lot of mistakes that could have changed the result and we have to clean those up against Coronado.”