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Fantastic Falcons second at state

"By 11 a.m. Friday, 20 South Whidbey soccer players were living in a dream. A very good dream.The boys had just won a 2A state semifinal game against Riverside in a 1-0 contest that kept fans and coaches in expectant agony for over 90 minutes. When the final buzzer sounded, everyone tuned into South Whidbey soccer -- from the players on the field to teachers and students still in school back on the island -- knew that the Falcons had played the best soccer any South Whidbey team ever has.The win was the standout highlight of last week's tournament, in which the Falcons placed second in an eight-team field of Washington's best. Two weekends ago, the Falcons beat Washougal 2-1 in the first round of the tournament. Friday's win, which came with senior Topi Manu's breakaway goal in the 69th minute, sent the team into a championship game Saturday against Wahluke. Manu worked his magic a second time in that game with another big goal, but the Wahluke Warriors came back to beat the Falcons 2-1 on a double overtime goal.From the beginning of the season, none of the players, nor anyone on the coaching staff, doubted that the Falcons belonged at the state tournament -- even though they won only four games last year. Seventeen minutes into Saturday's game in Vancouver's Kiggens Bowl, the whole team believed it might take home a championship. Watching from his net, Falcon goalkeeper Mike Johnson was a sure as anyone when Manu took a Josh Gianni pass downfield for a walk-in goal against the Warriors' goalkeeper.When I saw Topi score I thought 'We really have a chance,' Johnson said.After the halftime break, the tide of the game started to turn against the Falcons. The Warriors spent more time in the Falcons' zone than in the first half and placed a number of dangerous kicks in front of the net. Johnson kept them out until midway through the half, but the pressure was building. Falcon coaches Mark Helpenstell and John Jelinek had warned their players at halftime to keep Wahluke under control. We knew we were playing a team fully capable of a comeback, Helpenstell said.Wahluke's Carlos Perez started the comeback, just beating Johnson in a one-on-one showdown late in the half. Tied at 1-1, the teams played through one five-minute, sudden-death overtime and three minutes into a second before Wahluke got its break with a corner kick across the front of the net. Warrior Omar Pulido touched the scoring shot through the defenders and past Johnson, sending Wahluke's fans into a frenzy. Dazed by the sudden end to the game, most of the Falcon players simply sat on the field for more than 10 minutes. Senior Falcon Josh Gianni said the defense does not relish defending against corner kicks because the goalkeeper's box becomes a sea of flailing heads, feet, legs, and arms.It's confusion is what it is, Gianni said.In Friday's game, Gianni, along with defenders Aaron McCabe and Giles Hamilton, and goalkeeper Mike Johnson, were perfect, holding Riverside scoreless. Topi Manu put the game away offensively with just over 10 minutes to play on a 40-yard solo goal. He slipped by two defenders before shooting under Riverside's goalkeeper for the score. Manu said the goal did not come from a complex offensive play -- it just happened.It was one of those moments you just don't think, Manu said.Coach Helpenstell said he and his team received strong support from a throng of South Whidbey fans who made the trip to Vancouver for both of the state games. Most of all, he credited the team's success to the heart they showed all season long. Josh Gianni said he was sure the Falcons' potential from the start of the season.I expected a lot out of this team, Gianni said.Well, he got it.The Falcons end the season with a record of 15-6."

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