Junior Blake Crutchfield's throw that tipped off the hands of the Skyline goalie during the 71st minute proved the difference in a 2-1 triumph over Skyline.
“Deja vu. What can you say?,” Crutchfield said after recalling last year's state playoff win at Veterans Memorial Stadium, which was also buoyed by his long throw in.
Two second half goals sent the Panthers (18-2 overall) on to their eighth Final Four, but coach Dan Pingrey still saw plenty of room in his team for improvement.
“We constantly make it tough on ourselves,” Pingrey said with an exasperated smile. “As long as we can keep winning and hopefully have lessons learned because there's still a lot of them.
“I'd sure like to get those goals in the beginning. That would change the world.”
In the 55th minute forward Tanner Corrie made a phenomenal run, racing nearly 50 yards up the right side and beating the Skyline defenders to the edge. Skyline goalie Jack O'Keefe came off his line and Corrie drove a shot into the far corner of the net to score the first goal of the game.
Crutchfield made it 2-0 by lining up a seemingly routine throw-in from about 35 yards out. But a Crutchfield throw is never routine. The junior threw the ball over the defense. The ball tipped off the hands of O'Keefe into the net.
“He was standing far post because that's where I was throwing all game,” Crutchfield said of the Spartan goalie. “So I thought I'll go near. He ended up putting a hand on it and it went in. The luck was with me today.”
But this wasn't luck. This was a Crutchfield special.
“That's a blessing,” senior defensive captain Dekotah Keogh said. “He can hit the back post from 50 yards out. We are honored to have him.”
One minute later Skyline responded pushing the kickoff into Snohomish territory and getting a quick foul, taking advantage of a lapse by the Panthers. A hurried Nate Hardwick free kick was one-timed by Nick Morgan past goalkeeper Ryan Peters. The 2-1 score seemed to send the pace of the game from intense to frenetic.
The Spartans pushed hard to get the ball to heralded senior forward Jason Twaddle who made the Panthers back four work all night. Twaddle, built like a 5-foot-11 football fullback, and the Spartans teed off with shot after shot as the clock wound down and into stoppage time. Skyline had a 17-15 shot edge, but Peters was there when the Panthers needed him.
“When a college gets a hold of him, he's going to be special,” Pingrey said of his keeper. “And a college needs to find him. ... The man's got good hands.”
Spartan coach Don Braman thought this game didn't have anything to do with his team's 1-0 win over Snohomish in the preseason. Neither side played with the same lineup, but today they played with the same vigor. Braman felt his team was just as deserving of advancing despite the final score.
“I really felt like we played hard enough to win.” Braman said. “Sometimes this is a cruel game.”
The tears on the Spartan sideline supported his point, but the cheers from the Snohomish stands as the Panthers celebrated were the counterpoint.
“It feels like a second chance because last year we were there (state semis) and we didn't do too hot,” Keough said. “This year we are going to take care of business and come home with the championship.”
Pingrey was optimistic after the game, but knows the Panthers will need to play better to make Keough's prediction look wise.
The Panthers controlled possession early, but Skyline took control for the majority of the first half forcing Snohomish to rely on their back four. The Snohomish offense showed signs of life in the final minutes of the half putting together a few scoring chances before Skyline made one last strong push.
In the final minute of the first half a Snohomish foul just outside the penalty area on the left side set up a free kick. Two passes set up two headers by the Spartans, pulling Peters off his line and exposing the goal line, but Keough filled the void and flicked the shot clear.
“I just did what any defender would have done,” Keough said deflecting credit as well as he deflected the shot. “I was in the right spot at the right time.”
It was a great response to the Spartan attack, but Pingrey believes that the Panthers will need to be the one attacking early to reach their ultimate goal.
“We played tighter than I thought we would today,” Pingrey said. “The best part about this group is they've learned how to grind through things like that and that's huge.”
At Veterans Memorial Stadium
Goals—Nick Morgan (SK), Tanner Corrie (SN), own goal
Assists—Nate Hardwick (SK)
Goalkeepers—Skyline: Jack O'Keefe . Snohomish: Ryan Peters.
Records—Skyline (14-2-3) Snohomish (18-2-0)
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