A quick Cedarcrest score clipped the once high-flying Falcon boys soccer team and was essentially a gut-punch that led to a 2-1 loss on Tuesday.
Red Wolves senior Chuy Espinoza blitzed by a Falcon defender for a goal in the second minute. The score put South Whidbey in a first-half hole for the first time all season and seemed to daze and confuse the Falcons.
South Whidbey (3-2-0 Cascade Conference, 5-2-0 overall) had previously outscored opponents 29-1.
“It’s pretty rare when our defense has lapses like that,” said Falcon senior Jeff Meier. “That’s three goals in six games. Especially that early in the game; it’s like a shell shock for the next 10 minutes and they capitalized.”
As they had been most of the season, the Falcons were a volume shooting team. South Whidbey amassed more than a dozen shots in the game, though for all their chances — especially in the first half — the Falcons were unable to punch any attempts into the net.
Still, the Falcons recovered and held Cedarcrest to a 1-0 lead through the first 40 minutes at Waterman’s Field.
Cedarcrest (4-1-0 conference, 4-3-0 overall) relied on quick, long sends of the ball downfield mixed with fast, crisp passes in compact areas to keep South Whidbey on its heels.
In the second half, the Falcons got off the first two shots and appeared poised to at least tie the score. But the Red Wolves countered again with Espinoza, who beat a pair of defenders to get a one-on-one with the Falcons goalkeeper.
Espinoza shot the ball low past Falcon goalie Charley Stelling, who just managed to get his outstretched fingers on the ball but was unable to stop it from rolling into the net.
“That one was a shame,” said Falcon senior defender Bryce Auburn, a team co-captain. “He beat by one of us, another one, a third one. It was just [Espinoza’s] game. Both goals were shots from far out.”
South Whidbey adjusted its formation to give the offense a boost and put more pressure on Cedarcrest’s defense. Meier moved from midfield to forward along with senior Kai da Rosa and Andy Zisette.
The Falcons finally got on the scoreboard in the 53rd minute. Oliver Saunsaucie threw in the ball from the sideline into the goalie box over da Rosa, who feigned a header attempt. The ball went past him to Meier, who booted it in for his eighth score this season.
“It was intentional,” Meier said. “It was a flick thing we’ve been practicing a while.”
Still trailing, South Whidbey’s offense had a few more chances to tie the score and at least get an overtime. The Falcons fired off a handful of shots in the final 10 minutes, including a couple of free kicks outside the goalie box.
But their shots were high, wide or saved, and Cedarcrest held on to claim a clear spot as the Cascade Conference’s second-place team. South Whidbey is in fourth place.
Further marring the game for South Whidbey were frequent mistakes made by miscommunication. A handful of times the Falcons failed to say who was moving where, who would take the ball, who would defend whom.
“We have some quiet people,” Auburn said. “Some games we’re vocal, some games we aren’t. This wasn’t one of them.”
Added Meier: “It’s also hard on your psyche when you’re trying to chase a team.”
South Whidbey traveled to take on Lakewood on April 10, after The Record went to press.