SNOHOMISH — When Nathan Nicholson got the start at right back in Snohomish’s 3A state tournament opening round game against Mt. Tahoma, the senior was more focused on preventing goals than scoring them.
But 20 minutes into the first half, the Panthers called on Nicholson to give Snohomish an offensive spark. He and forward Conner Smith delivered.
“We just wanted to put this team under pressure,” Nicholson said. “Me and Conner work great up there (in the attack) together. He is a great playmaker, and I want to give him all the credit. I just finished the goals.”
Four times Nicholson found the back of the net. Three of his goals came during a four-minute, second-half span.
Smith added a goal and three assists, and pivotal scores at the end of the first half and beginning of the second helped the Panthers earn a 7-2 3A state tournament win over Mt. Tahoma on Tuesday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
“You’re watching a Snohomish team that was inspired tonight,” said Snohomish coach Matt Raney. “I told these guys before the match, my expectation, with what I saw coming into our stadium tonight and what these guys are capable of, is that we should put up eight goals, and they almost got there.”
The win advances Snohomish (15-3-1) to the 3A state tournament quarterfinals for the sixth straight season. The Panthers will play Redmond next for a chance to reach the state semis.
A free kick opportunity in the 29th minute started the Panthers’ scoring. Quickly, after moving to the attack, Nicholson made his impact felt.
A beautiful lead pass into the box from 35 yards out was headed by Eli Esterly, who was running toward the right post 10 yards out from goal. Esterly sent the ball back across the box toward the left post and connected with Nicholson, who easily headed the ball past Mt. Tahoma keeper Josiah Bowie to put Snohomish in front 1-0.
Four minutes later the T-Birds equalized when Felix Angel rebounded a free kick from Marco Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s ball drilled the crossbar, went straight into the ground before popping up into the air and found Angel, who placed a shot past Panthers keeper Michael Herrera.
But Snohomish again showed its knack for executing set pieces, scoring in first-half stoppage time off a long throw-in from Smith to midfielder Adam Kowalchyk.
Smith heaved the ball at least 25 yards, and Kowalchyk, who stood tall above the diminutive Mt. Tahoma defenders, directed the ball with his head past Bowie from close range to capture the lead back at 2-1.
That lead quickly swelled to 3-1. Barely more than a minute into the second half, Nicholson fed Smith, who found himself in plenty of space 15 yards out from goal. The senior ripped a shot into the upper-left corner, and in an instant, Snohomish went from a tie game to a commanding lead.
Nicholson then turned the state first-round match into a blowout.
From the 51st to 54th minute, the senior forward scored three times, including two goals within 30 seconds. When the scoring flurry finished, Nicholson had four goals to his name and had the Panthers in front 6-1.
“It’s awesome,” said Nicholson, who had six goals coming into the game. “I love being able to put up goals like that. It inspires the team, and gives us motivation that we have that capability as a team.”
“This is a talented young man who is a quality individual,” said Raney of Nicholson. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer kid tonight. I’m so proud of him. He’s been consistent, but roles he’s played hasn’t allowed him to release. Tonight we released him, and he was ready, hungry and inspired.”
Junior forward Nicolas Martuch capped Snohomish’s big night with a goal in the 72nd minute.