With an 11-game unbeaten streak hanging in the balance, Kenai Central senior Zack Tuttle made sure the Kardinals boys’ dream season continued as planned.
Tuttle deked out his Homer defender and launched the game-tying goal with 16 minutes left in a pivotal Peninsula Conference showdown with the Mariners on Tuesday night at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, securing a 1-1 draw.
The tie prevented Kenai from suffering its first loss since March 22, when West Valley toppled the Kards 2-0 at the Dome in Anchorage. Kenai is now 11-1-1 overall, while Homer is 7-3-1, and both teams top the conference at first and second, respectively.
Earlier in the day, the Kenai girls picked up a tight 2-1 victory over Homer.
Tuttle’s strike in the boys contest was the parting shot in a tense regular season clash between the two sides. Earlier in the year, Tuttle scored five times in a 6-2 Kenai win down in Homer, but Tuesday’s meeting could have gone either way.
“I think we’ve felt the top teams in the region are within a goal of each other,” said Homer head coach Warren Waldorf. “This is a good indication of that.”
After a scoreless first half, the Homer boys began the second stanza with the gusty winds at their backs, and the Mariners capitalized five minutes in with a goal. A corner kick bounced off the gloves of Kenai goalie Braedon Pitsch and Daniel Reutov was there to knock it in and put Homer up 1-0.
However, Kenai head coach Joel Reemtsma said he had faith that his offense would break through eventually, even as the minutes wore down.
“We don’t normally get shut out,” Reemtsma said. “I felt we were almost snakebit, we had so many good chances.”
The big moment came in the 64th minute, when Tuttle collected a through ball directly down the middle, shook off Homer’s Charles Rohr with an evasive move and took aim at net.
“That was SportsCenter stuff,” Reemtsma said. “It was an incredible finish.”
Homer goalkeeper Tucker Weston stood tall in net amid the Kenai barrage, particularly in the first half with several big glove saves.
The first half also featured a brutal collision between Kenai teammates Titus Riddall and Luke Beiser. Beiser stayed down for several minutes before making his way off the pitch. Reemtsma said Beiser should be back for the next game.
Rohr played marvelous in the backfield, Waldorf said, as the senior defender stuck to Tuttle like glue throughout most of the game. Rohr’s speed matched well with Tuttle’s skills as the two battled hard.
Not having won since April 30, Waldorf said that kind of effort was needed to help pick the Mariners back up from a two-game slide.
“You feel good every game (that is won),” he said. “We were having to work through a rough patch and this is a big game on an away field.”
Kenai girls 2, Homer 1
A 68th-minute goal from freshman Lily Coon provided the game-winner for the Kardinals in a tightly contested Peninsula Conference matchup Tuesday.
Coon buried the go-ahead goal from the outer corner of the box with an assist from Olivia Brewer to snap a 1-all tie, and the Kenai girls managed to withstand a tense period of Homer pressure in the final 10 minutes to pick up the win.
The win avenged a 1-0 loss to Homer earlier in the season, which was the first time in years the Mariner girls defeated the Kards.
“It was just one of those things,” said Kenai head coach Dan Verkuilen. “I think the team has had huge improvements the last month; we’re looking to build a little steam.”
Kenai sophomore Liz Hanson opened the game with a header off a Brenna Eubank free kick near the goal box in the 26th minute, but Homer answered five minutes later with a goal from sophomore Kate Baring.
Coon’s go-ahead tally highlighted the talent-laden underclassmen group. Verkuilen said that the close win provided a crucial mental victory as well.
“This was a big win for the girls to get their brains in the right place,” he said. “The girls played hard and we had our chances. It was just 80 minutes of moving girls into position.”
Homer head coach Mike Tozzo said the game was important for Homer to have not only due to conference positioning, but also to build up some momentum with the region tournament in view.
“I don’t want to let other teams feel like they can beat us,” Tozzo said. “I don’t know if that happened today.”
Kenai’s Kailey Hamilton and Homer’s Kelli Bishop, both sophomores, both had their hands full all game in goal. Bishop recently made her first varsity start in place of Homer’s Ali McCarron, who is ruled out for the season with a medical issue.
Baring’s game-tying goal in the 31st minute came from a distance outside the goal box but settled easily into the far corner of the Kenai net, sending the teams to halftime with a 1-all tie.
Just minutes before Coon’s winning goal in the second half, Homer missed an opportunity that glanced off the left post, and Kenai used that close miss as an opportunity.
Soldotna girls 11, Voznesenka 0
The host Stars improved to 8-1-2 overall and 7-0-1 in the Peninsula Conference by topping the Cougars.
Maddie Kindred, Paulyne Catacutan and Kianna Holland combined on the shutout.
Journey Miller had three goals and two assists to lead the Stars, while Meijan Leaf had two goals.
Also for Soldotna, Faith Glassmaker had a goal, Katie Delker had a goal and an assist, Sierra Kuntz had a goal and an assist, Kiana Holland had a goal, Marina Walton had a goal, Catacutan had a goal, Whitney Wortham had an assist, and Serena Larrow, Kortney Birch and Maddie Kindred had assists.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said it was a great game for working on things like moving the ball with short, crisp passes; give and goes; and getting the ball outside and crossing it.
Love gave credit to Voznesenka for working hard and keeping his team honest.
“I think it’s phenomenal when soccer expands into areas where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to expand,” Love said.
Love also experimented with other things to make his players think and keep the score down, like playing short-sided for stretches of time.