South Whidbey falters in chance to secure state berth | FALCON BOYS SOCCER

South Whidbey senior Lochlan Roberts dribbles the ball during the Falcons’ match against King’s Wednesday night at Waterman’s Field. The Falcons lost 3-0 and squandered an opportunity to secure a berth to the class 1A state championships.

It happened before South Whidbey’s boys soccer team had a chance to blink.

Just a minute after the first whistle, King’s senior forward Forrest Perry dribbled past the Falcons’ defense and into scoring territory unchallenged, converting a goal in the left side of the net. The early score left the Falcons stunned, and players said they felt off-kilter the rest of the match.

The Knights scored again in the 58th and 59th minutes, winning 3-0 Wednesday night at Waterman’s Field. South Whidbey falls to 6-6-1 overall and 5-5-1 in the Cascade Conference, while King’s improved to 7-5-0 overall and 7-4-0 in league.

South Whidbey outshot the Knights 11-8, but shaky defense and sloppy offensive possessions prevented the Falcons from clawing back into contention.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Falcon head coach Emerson Robbins. “We outshot them, we had some defensive miscues and we didn’t finish the opportunities we had. We had some great opportunities. How many headers did we have right in front of the goal that we missed? You got to put those in.”

What began as an opportunity to secure a berth to the class 1A state championships is now a far from certain future for the Falcons. Had the Falcons won, they would have locked up the first seed in the 1A District 1 tournament, thus guaranteeing at least one game at the state championships. The loss, which ties the series between King’s and South Whidbey at 1-1, puts the Knights in the driver’s seat in the league’s 1A division. If the Falcons defeat Sultan at home April 29 and the Knights lose to Cedar Park Christian that same night, South Whidbey will tie for first. The latter is unlikely, however, as Cedar Park Christian is currently without a win this season.

“We have our backs against the wall,” Robbins said. “We have to beat to Sultan and King’s has to blow it, because we split with them.”

“Our loss to Sultan (on April 8) will probably cost us,” he added.

It’s the same story but a different year for the Falcons. They faced a similar predicament in 2015 when they lost to the Knights at the district championships and had to win two consecutive matches to qualify for state.

“It just sucks that we have to take the harder route,” Falcon senior midfielder Lucas Leiberman said. “We always have an opportunity to make it easier for ourselves and we don’t usually take advantage of that.”

Leiberman said the early goal came as a result of the defense giving Perry too much space to settle the ball without a defender to prevent the shot. The lackadaisical moment was indicative of the Falcons’ overall performance.

“It looked like we were just caught flat and didn’t respond quickly enough,” Leiberman said. “Everything seemed lazy today, everything seemed sloppy. Nothing was going for us.”

There were more than a few moments where the Falcons could have tied things up. Freshman Graham Colar missed a shot near the goal in the 27th minute, while Leiberman provided two through passes to the center of the penalty area in the 48th and 50th minutes, but both were just out of reach of their intended targets.

After the Knights’ two scores in the 58th and 59th minutes, Leiberman launched the Falcons’ strongest hope for a goal after a cross from sophomore Ari Rohan. Leiberman’s shot was aimed for the top of the net, but Knights goalkeeper Gunnar Morehead slapped the ball out of the way.

Senior Jordan Henriot, freshman Julian Inches, sophomore Lake Smith and junior Max Cassee were among those repeatedly helping set up scoring opportunities.

Henriot said the Falcons were caught on an off-day.

“I don’t know, we’ve honestly been just having bad games where we haven’t been connecting passes,” Henriot said. “We also have a problem coming to the ball. I know with the bigger teams in the air, we’re kind of a smaller team, so we can’t win nearly as much headers as they can.”

Leiberman, who often won in one-on-one situations with the Knights fighting for the ball, said the Falcons can compensate for their lack of size by having a lower center of gravity than their opponent. Though the Falcons’ lack of size is far from the only problem they’ll need to address.

“It just comes down to decision making — I don’t think we make the best decisions out on the field,” Leiberman said. “Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. But a lot of times we get out there and panic and just freeze up in front of the ball.”

Robbins said the Falcons will fix their offensive woes in practice, particularly finishing possessions, as well as passing channels.

The Falcons played Cedarcrest after The Record’s deadline Friday night. They play at Lakewood April 26 before finishing off the regular season with their home season finale against the Turks at 6 p.m., April 29.

“The big game is Sultan. We have to beat Sultan and at least lock down the second spot,” Robbins said. “I certainly think we can.”