“If I only have road wins in the playoffs, I’m happy with that,” Coach Derek Waters said with a smile. “These guys did such a great job pulling together tonight.”
In addition to their road woes, the Tigers (6-7-1) had a habit of getting off to slow starts this season. Giving up early goals and having to play from behind in most of their games. Neither of those were an issue Friday night as Waters and the coaches emphasized the importance of a strong start during their week of practice leading up to the Jackson County (6-11) game.
“That was the message,” said Waters about starting strong. “(The coaches) talked to the guys all this week…We talked to them about (starting strong).
“The playoffs are a new season. Our regular season record wasn’t what we had hoped it would be, but now we’re starting a new season and we need to become a new team especially in the beginning of the game. Our mindset coming in was to try to put pressure on (Jackson County) early because we don’t want to fall behind in the playoffs and have to play from behind and struggle with that uphill battle throughout a game.”
Senior Nathan Blythe got the scoring started for the Tigers in the 26th minute after he was able to get on the end of a freekick in to the box by freshman Caleb Bonesteel, knocking it home for the 1-0 lead.
The Panthers thought they had tied it up three minutes later, but the goal was disallowed as the play was ruled offsides and the teams headed into the locker room with Dawson County up 1-0 at halftime.
Jackson County didn’t waste any time getting going in the second half, putting the Tigers on their heels right from the outset. The play was exclusively in the Tigers end for the first few minutes of the half with the Panthers best chance ringing off the crossbar before even 30 seconds had come off the clock.
Dawson County was able to survive the opening barrage without conceding a goal and settled things down as the two teams were held scoreless for most of the second half, despite chances on both sides.
That was until the 29th minute of the second half when senior Dennis Pyetsukh lobbed a ball high up from near midfield, fellow senior Cade Edwards was able to just get a piece of the ball as it was coming down to change its direction ever so slightly allowing it to bounce over the goalkeeper’s head and roll into the back of the net.
“That was key,” said Waters about scoring the second goal. “We had talked about it at halftime, especially with the way (Jackson County) was playing and knowing what we knew about them, we knew we needed another insurance goal…Which especially for those first, I don’t know what it was, 15, it felt like 15-20 minutes there in the (second) half. They were constantly just pounding our half of the field.
“Braden (Davison) was a warrior back there just keeping us in the game with all the saves he was making and once we finally got that (second goal), it’s a slight sigh of relief and then you also have to think, OK, based off what we’ve seen, they’ve really got a chance to still swing the momentum so we made a few adjustments to try to take away some of the attacks that they were building, dropped another person back to be a little bit more defensive and it paid off.”
Davison made seven saves for his second shutout of the season, while Pyetsukh converted a penalty kick to add another insurance goal for the Tigers just five minutes after Edwards scored his goal, and with less than a minute remaining, Blythe scored off a direct free kick to put the Tigers up 4-0 and punch their ticket into the Sweet 16 where they will travel to North Murray (13-1-2).