CULVER — It was all too familiar for Bremen’s boys soccer team.
After falling 2-1 in a penalty kick shootout to Argos at last year’s Culver Boys Soccer Sectional championship, the Lions had been dreaming of a reprisal for a year.
With Saturday’s rematch knotted in a 0-0 stalemate headed into the final minute, it looked like this year’s sectional championship would go into extra time once more.
But a long ball from Sean Mullaney bounced high into the Bremen box, and with Lions keeper Austin Adams running off his line to defend the service, Dragons striker Damon Binkley soft-touched the game-winner.
All Adams and the rest of the Bremen squad could do was watch as the ball trickled slow-motion style into the back of the net with 38 seconds on the clock to lift Argos to a 1-0 repeat sectional championship victory over the Lions.
“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game. They have a bunch of seniors that they had last year, and of course they would want to avenge that,” said Argos boys soccer coach Todd Van Der Weele. “They gave everything they had; both teams did. It had to be a fun game to watch. It just came down to making one play, and we were able to slink one in behind, and Damon made an outstanding touch to finish it. Their keeper, who played a very good game, he had to come out. He’s a little upset, but he had to come out.”
“We made the one mistake we couldn’t make, and we didn’t do it until 38 seconds left in the game,” said Bremen head coach Mark Yoder. “A mental lapse and that kind of screws you over. I don’t know if it’s any one person’s fault, but we just made the mistake we couldn’t make.”
It was a championship match befitting two talented conference champions.
Argos entered the game with just one loss and a No. 16 ranking in the Class A Indiana Soccer Coaches Association poll after going unbeaten in Northern Indiana Soccer Conference play, and the Lions came into Saturday’s contest with an undefeated 15-0-2 slate fresh off their second straight Northern State Conference championship.
There were tense moments aplenty for both teams but few shots on frame as the Dragons tallied five shots to only two by Bremen, the most dangerous a long chip from the wing in the 52nd minute that goalie Jacob Mechling punched over the crossbar with several Lions prowling the box.
“We only had two shots on goal the entire game; that’s not going to get you a goal,” said Yoder. “Plenty of opportunities. I thought we had the most pressure the entire game to be honest… but if you don’t score, you don’t win.”
While Yoder acknowledged the skill of the Argos side, the Bremen boss felt his team was hurt by the game’s officiating despite a close margin of 11 Lions fouls to 10 by the Dragons in a game where, for better or worse, referees mostly decided to let the teams play on.
“I thought we were playing against two teams tonight — the officiating crew and Argos. I thought the officials were terrible, I’m going to be honest and share my opinion on that,” Yoder said. “A PK call (for Argos), 10 minutes later the exact same foul and nothing; the referee’s yelling at Bremen to get up. I don’t know how our players are supposed to work with that.”
“Argos is a great team, I’m sure they’ll win the regional,” he continued. “It was a battle the whole game, so it’s what you want a sectional championship to be. I just think our kids got screwed.”
The Dragons got an emotional lift from the Argos girls squad late in the game, as the Lady Dragons’ bus pulled in with a little over 10 minutes left to play following their similar last-minute repeat sectional title win at the Covenant Christian tourney earlier in the day. The sounds of their celebration could be heard long before they reached the Culver parking lot, and after they made their way to the field to begin cheering on their side, it touched off something of a cheer battle between the opposing crowds which seemed to energize both squads in the home stretch of a gruelingly even contest.
“Bremen did a good job of taking a lot of things away from us,” said Van Der Weele. “We struggled at times. I think we were lucky that we didn’t have to keep playing tonight, to go into overtime.”
Bremen closes out an impressive season at 15-1-2 with the season-ending loss. The team will have to say farewell to a strong senior lineup of 10 upperclassmen in Don Browning, Chris Gingerich, Jarred Fitch, Andrew Huff, Phoenix Ricketts, Sam Bickel, Jacob Box, Zach Compton, Jamie Hughes and Eduardo Reynoso.
“Maybe the best season in our history. Without checking the records I’m not positive, but I don’t think we’ve ever been undefeated before so the 10 seniors can be extremely proud of that accomplishment,” said Yoder. “We won the NSC back-to-back and went undefeated in the conference, and I know they’re extremely proud of that. But this is what they wanted more than anything so they’re not going to be satisfied and I don’t expect them to be.”
Argos improves to 17-1-1 with their second straight sectional championship — and seventh overall — in the second year of the IHSAA’s two-classed state tournament.
The Dragons now seek to defend their 2011 regional title as they take on Carroll (Flora) in a Caston Regional opener Thursday at 5 p.m. with the winner of a Peru-Oak Hill semifinal waiting in the wing Saturday at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got a lot of experience, we’ve played on that field before,” said Van Der Weele of regionals. “It comes down to who’s going to play hardest, who wants the game more and who’ s going to play their style. Bremen definitely made it hard for us, and next week we’re going to have to be a little stronger with that or we’re going to struggle again.”
• ARGOS 1, BREMEN 0
At Culver Sectional Championship
Argos — Damon Binkley (Sean Mullaney), 80th minute
Shots on goal: Argos 5, Bremen 2
Saves: Argos 1 (Jacob Mechling), Bremen 4 (Austin Adams)
Corners: Argos 6, Bremen 2
Records: Argos 17-1-1, Bremen 15-1-2 (final)