There’s that common saying among coaches it’s hard to beat a team three times. No one can quite explain why. Maybe it’s because the teams know each other so well. Maybe it’s because one team gets complacent. Maybe it’s because the other team is that much more fired up.
Whatever the reason, Benjamin Russell’s boys soccer team proved it’s not just a saying. It’s true.
The Wildcats came out swinging against Stanhope Elmore, which had shut them down twice during the regular season. But when it mattered most in Tuesday’s Class 6A second-round game, it was Benjamin Russell that got the 3-2 victory.
“This feels amazing,” BRHS defender Dylan Riley said. “The whole team knew they were going to be overcome and think, ‘They suck. We beat them, 2-0 and 3-0.’ It feels amazing to just come out here and whoop ’em.”
Right from the get go, the Wildcats wanted to set the tone against the No. 2-ranked team in 6A, and they did just that. After Benjamin Russell’s Campbell Woods made the game’s first save and was helped along by a stop from Riley on the rebound, the Wildcats went to work in their offensive zone. They gained a corner kick, which Landon Daniel sent in and Luke Harvey bucketed.
Just 51 seconds later, Harvey was at it again. He got himself in a one-on-one situation with Stanhope defender Gustavo Guzman, beat him to the corner and tucked a goal just inside the left post to put Benjamin Russell ahead 2-0 before eight minutes were ticked off the clock.
“They beat us twice in the season so we knew we had to come out with high intensity,” Harvey said. “We knew we had to go up early and put them away early, and I feel like we came out strong, got the two early goals and that really set the intensity. They had some chances, almost came back and got us, but ultimately we were able to work hard and put them away.”
Benjamin Russell held onto its 2-0 lead through the entire first half, thanks in large part to its defensive line. Woods needed just two saves in the opening half, but that number didn’t indicate the pressure the Mustangs put on BRHS. Riley and Brandon Welcher both had a pair of brilliant stops that could’ve easily been goals for Stanhope.
“Usually our outside backs, me and Ujal (Patel), are gonna push up but we just kept our line this time,” Riley said. “We knew both times we played them, they tried to do the same thing on the line and slid it past our outside backs. Since we were staying, they couldn’t make that run and we shut them down all night.”
Stanhope did come back swinging in the second half, though. The Mustangs finally broke through with a goal from Cristo Rocha on a header just 10 minutes into the second half. That seemed to pick up the intensity for SEHS, but it wasn’t enough. Harvey answered less than five minutes later when the Wildcats sent a long ball down the field and he pocketed his third goal of the night through heavy traffic.
“We were just trying to play the ball upfield to avoid them getting a goal,” Harvey said. “I was able to settle it and hit it hard near post. Luckily it went in off the post; luck was on our side there.”
Stanhope responded, as Rocha scored again with 12:03 remaining. That really seemed to put a fire under the Mustangs, as they started to pepper Woods with shots. Dylan Presciti had what looked like a sure-fire opportunity with under a minute to go but Woods jumped up and deflected the ball off his fingertips and over the net, icing the victory.
“We had to have a complete team effort,” Benjamin Russell coach Austin Teel said. “The guys off the bench did well and of course the guys on the field, they fought till the very end. I can’t ask for anything more than what we got (Tuesday). I’m just thrilled to death. To be honest, I feel like I just got done playing the game too, but I tonight love it.”