The #4 Rolla soccer team (22-5) hosted #2 Glendale for Sectionals on Tuesday, Oct. 31. This was a physical and defensive matchup, but a late penalty kick lifted the Falcons to a 1-0 win to end Rolla's season.
Rolla nearly took an early lead in the third minute, when the ball rolled out of bounds and gave the Bulldogs a corner kick in the third minute. Gabe Stanislawski served up the kick and two Rolla players crashed in the Glendale keeper in an attempt to score, but the ball bounced away and the game remained locked at a scoreless tie.
After that, Glendale controlled a lot of the half. This was a game that was played largely in the midfield. Rolla couldn't spring their forwards with a pass after winning balls, so offensive chances were few and far between in the first half. While a lot of the half was spent on Rolla's side of the pitch, the Falcons weren't able to get a lot of shots off on Bulldog keeper Drew Blair. Blair turned away every opportunity that came his way in the half and the Sectional was still a scoreless tie at halftime.
The second half saw a similar start as the first. Rolla was able to get a corner kick in the first seconds of the half, but the chance was turned away. The Bulldogs tried to set up Nick Janke for headers, as they tend to do, on their corners throughout the game, but Glendale went out of their way to box out the senior defender as much as possible.
While Rolla struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the first half, things turned around in the second. The Bulldogs started to win more balls and got more aggressive. Stanislawski nearly gave Rolla a 1-0 lead in the 49th minute with a great shot from outside the box in the middle of the pitch. The shot was perfectly placed in the lower corner, but Glendale keeper Gage Patterson made a great diving save to keep the shutout alive.
While Rolla's offense picked things up, Glendale wasn't going to go down without a fight. The Bulldog defense stepped up throughout the half with one of the biggest moments coming in the 67th minute when a crossed ball nearly gave Glendale a lead, but a great recovery by the Rolla defense saved a goal.
The physical nature of the game was eventually going to catch up to one team and it bit the Bulldogs in the 74th minute. Rolla was called for a foul in the middle of a big scrum at the top of the keeper zone with six minutes left to play, which set up a penalty kick chance for Mitch Stephens. The junior defender fired a shot in the lower right corner and Blair made the right guess on his dive, but the shot rolled just played the Rolla senior to give Glendale a 1-0 lead.
Rolla turned their offensive pressure to 11, but they didn't have enough time. The Bulldogs had some restarts as the time wound down, but they were forced to play the final two minutes without Jayson Ross, who was carded with Glendale's Gannon Patterson. Ross played a key role throughout the game and season with his physical play at forward and the Bulldogs missed him in the final minutes as they failed to score and their season was ended with a 1-0 loss to the Falcons.
"I thought our kids played great," said head coach Mike Howard after the game. "The number two and number four in the state of Missouri playing and they didn't disappoint, it was a fun game to be a part of."
The defense was the key to the game for the Bulldogs and they were lights out all night long outside of the card in the final six minutes.
"We talked about it before the game, we talked about it at halftime, we felt like we could keep them from scoring as long as we don't let up any restarts and you don't give up a PK," said Howard. "It's a tough way to lose, but it's a fair call, it's the right call, we fouled him. It is what it is."
While the season ended a little sooner than they would've hoped, coach Howard is extremely proud of what his team accomplished this season.
"After all the people we lost last year and people kind of wrote us off, said it's gonna be a down year. We heard all of those things and to win 22 games with the schedule we play is pretty impressive," said the Rolla head coach. "Unfortunately we're matched up with a team that I feel like has a real opportunity to win the State Championship. Just sad to see them in the first round out."
Several seniors were the heart and soul of this Rolla team. Captains Drew Blair and Nick Janke were the key to so many victories on the defensive end, as is evidenced by Blair holding the school record for career shutouts. Up top, Jayson Ross helped jumpstart the offense if things ever got stagnant with extremely aggressive play. That senior leadership from the three starters, as well as the seniors that didn't see as much playing time, helped carry the Bulldogs to 22 wins this season.
"Drew, Nick and Jayson Ross did a great job of carrying this team all year as seniors," said coach Howard. "Not just that, but the other seniors we had that didn't start were great leaders for us as well and always positive and great team players. Nothing but great things to say about that group of kids."