PLYMOUTH — For anyone who doesn’t think the postseason represents a clean slate, take the example of Plymouth versus NorthWood.
Coming off a lopsided 4-1 loss to the Panthers just last Tuesday, it would have been easy for the Rockies to sink to the level of a similar expectation in Monday’s sectional opener at Kindt Field. Instead, Alex Orellana’s penalty kick sealed Plymouth a 4-2 PK shootout edge, and the Rockies mauled him in a raucous celebration as they claimed a 2-1 win victory over their guests in a Class 2A Sectional 7 thriller.
“Part of it is it’s the sectionals. The rest of our record doesn’t matter any more; it’s the new season,” said Plymouth boys soccer coach Josh Martin. “We told ourselves we were undefeated, plus I think there was a little salt in that wound. Getting beat on your home field 4-1 that first time, that had our guys upset. We knew that that team wasn’t three goals better than us.”
After closing regulation and both five-minute overtime periods knotted in a 1-1 draw, Plymouth was given first dibs in the shootout.
NorthWood goalkeeper Kyle Djikstra made a nice diving save of Trevor Neidlinger’s PK to give the Panthers the early edge, but Taylor Wegmiller’s shot sailed high to leave the Northern Lakes Conference rivals even after the first round. Brandon Barahona’s low dribbler answered Kyle Vanlue’s high drive to leave the two teams even at 1-1, and Afonso Nunes’ shot deflected off Djikstra’s hand and into the net before Clayton Seitz converted on his second chance as it was ruled the Plymouth keeper Erik Aguilar had left his line on a deflection on Seitz’s first shot to keep them even at 2-2.
Next up for Plymouth, sophomore Joe Smith stepped up with a big PK, and when Djikstra’s shot caromed off the crossbar in a goalie versus goalie matchup, the Rockies claimed a 3-2 advantage going into the final round of PKs. Orellana calmly buried his shot to make NorthWood’s last attempt moot, and Plymouth claimed the 2-1 reprisal win over the Panthers.
“I had to bump somebody because I had an injury, and I put Joe Smith in. Joe had been scoring a lot — he scored multiple PKs for the JV team — and I felt he had really earned an opportunity to take that shot because I had him man-marking Clay Seitz the whole game, and he buried a real nice shot,” said Martin. “Then I told Erik he had to make one big save or get into someone’s head enough. It was keeper versus keeper and I think it hit the post and bounced out instead of in, and that was kind of the break we needed. I wanted our seniors to play a big part in that PK shootout if it went to one, and I knew Alex would be able to handle that kind of pressure, and he buried a really nice finish for us.”
“Penalty kicks are a crap shoot. It’s not a good way to lose a game. You’re OK when you win it that way, but it’s tough,” said NorthWood head coach Brad Duerkson. “We let it go to penalty kicks, and that’s what happens. You can’t let it go to penalty kicks, and we did. That’s what I told the guys.”
“We just didn’t come out with intensity tonight,” added the Panthers skipper. “I thought we’d have a lot more passion being that this could be our last game. I don’t know if the 4-1 win the other night got to our heads. We seemed focused when we started, it’s unfortunate.”
NorthWood took the initial advantage on a Taylor Wegmiller free kick just off the corner of Plymouth’s 18-yard box in the 30th minute. But the Rockies answered back on a set piece of their own in the 35th minute when Trevor Neidlinger headed in a Cesar Aguilar corner kick in the 35th minute — ruled past the plane as it was deflected from inside the NorthWood goal — as the two teams did all their scoring in a span of just over four minutes late in the first half.
“Taylor had a nice free kick to score the goal. Then they had an extremely controversial goal that was called as a goal,” said Duerkson. “My goalkeeper and my guy that cleared off the line said it wasn’t even close to going over. I don’t know how the AR sees that from that angle, but he called it a goal so it was a goal I guess. It was suspect at best in my opinion.”
“If our team would have been on the other end of one of those… But it looked like the line judge was in a good position to make that call,” Martin said. “You know what, a lot of times refs don’t have the guts to make those calls in a game of high school soccer, and we’re pleased that we were on the positive end of that call. If the ball goes over the plane it’s a goal; it doesn’t have to ripple the back of the net. “
NorthWood outshot the Rockies by a tenuous 7-6 margin, and the Panthers had plenty more opportunities off free kicks close to the Plymouth box throughout the contest as the home team was whistled for 23 fouls compared to NorthWood’s 15. But the visitors couldn’t capitalize on any of those opportunities, and the game was ultimately decided on PKs.
“We’ve got to get those on frame,” Duerkson said. “We hit them a little wide a couple times. We’ve been preaching that they’ve got to be on frame to make the keeper make a save, and if he makes a save, get a rebound off of it, but we just couldn’t get them on frame.”
Plymouth improves to 5-9-4 and will now get a chance to avenge another regular-season loss when the Rockies take on Culver Military Academy Wednesday.
“We lost to them in the dying seconds of a game at CMA. We’re on our home field now,” said Martin of the semifinal match-up. “We had one player that really hurt us, Luther Jacobs. Their whole team is really solid, but he’s their go-to guy, and he’s got great speed and if you leave him alone in the box he scores and if you give him too much time he makes great passes. We know that if we can disrupt his game, we’re going to disrupt a lot of their game. We scored against them so we know we can come out and put pressure on them as well. And if we get into another PK shootout situation we’ve got one under our belt, and we’ve got the confidence to be able to pull that off, too.”
NorthWood closes out the year at 8-8-2, meanwhile. The Panthers bid goodbye to a talented class of five seniors, including Djikstra, Wegmiller and Seitz, who set a single-season scoring record with two goals in NorthWood’s regular-season clash at Plymouth last week.
“The season was average I guess. We played some good games,” Duerkson said. “This makes the seventh loss out of the eight by one goal, so it’s kind of frustrating in that sense. The seniors were amazing. They set all kinds of records for us. Clayton Seitz had 23 goals for us in one season, Taylor Wegmiller is now second on the all-time scoring list for us, and Kyle Djikstra has career shutouts for a goalkeeper. And then Tad (Chamberlin) defending in the back played really well for us.”
• PLYMOUTH 2, NORTHWOOD 1 (Penalty kicks)
At Class 2A Plymouth Sectional
NW — Taylor Wegmiller (free kick), 30th minute
P — Trevor Neidlinger (Cesar Aguilar), 35th minute
PKs: Plymouth 4, NorthWood 2
Shots on goal: Plymouth 6, NorthWood 7
Saves: Plymouth 6 (Erik Aguilar), NorthWood 5 (Kyle Djikstra)
Corners: Plymouth 5, NorthWood 1
Fouls: Plymouth 23, NorthWood 15
Yellow card: Joe Smith (P), 52nd minute
Records: Plymouth 5-9-4, NorthWood 8-8-2 (final)