Dismal weather, defense dash boys' dreams
Jackson soccer upset in state semis on home turf.
Jackson forward Juan Morillion sails over Buffalo defender Garrett Monroe after going for a header in the second half of the Broncs’ unexpected 2-1 loss to the Bison in the semifinals of the Wyoming State 3A Soccer Tournament on Saturday at William T. McIntosh Stadium. BRADLY J. BONER / NEWS&GUIDEView our entire photo gallery >>
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
May 22, 2013
Jackson players dropped to their knees and let the cold, slanting rain pour down on them as the final whistle of Friday’s semifinal state soccer game sounded.
Their sensational season came to an abrupt halt just shy of a state championship that seemed theirs for the taking.
Throttled by an agonizingly impenetrable Buffalo defense, the Broncs had their 27-game winning streak broken by the No. 1 team out of the northeast and the eventual 2013 Wyoming 3A State Soccer Champions.
The day before, everything except the weather had gone as planned.
In a rain-soaked home opener, Jackson slid by Cody easily.
In the opening seconds of the game a corner kick, the product of a quick Jackson rush, was redirected like a laser over the Cody goalie’s shoulder. Then, halfway through the first half, Jackson’s all-state junior Will Horstmann cleaned up a bouncing ball in front.
Only minutes later, sophomore Juan Morillon, another of the team’s all-state phenoms and the underclassman player of the year, flew through a gaggle of Cody defenders and knocked in a third goal with his head.
With a strong hold on the game already, a penalty kick struck home by junior Miguel Cortez at the end of the first half sealed the 4-0 victory for Jackson.
On the other end of the bracket, Star Valley battled through a strong Worland team 3-2 in overtime. The win advanced the No. 2 team in the northwest into a semifinal match up against Lander, the No. 1 team in the southeast.
Buffalo thrashed Torrington 6-0 to move into the semifinal game against Jackson, which came into the tournament ranked No. 1 in the state.
With the temperature dropping, the rain continued on Friday.
Screams of celebration carried across the fields as the Jackson girls overcame the Lady Bison to advance to the girls’ state final against Star Valley. More cars poured into an already packed parking lot behind William T. McIntosh Stadium as the Jackson versus Buffalo semifinal prepared to get under way.
The Jackson boys controlled early against Buffalo. Horstmann and Morillon combined for an early through ball that Morillon sent just wide of the net. Morillon came out early in the half with knee pain, but Jackson still dominated possession although not without the occasional counter strike from Buffalo.
Then, 30 minutes into the first half, the momentum shifted, and Buffalo applied repeated pressure to the Jackson defense.
Senior Neil Medders eventually broke through the Jackson defense and scored on an athletic strike from the left side of the 18-yard box.
Moments later Buffalo made good use of a quick throw-in to set up sophomore James Musselman directly in front of the net for a second goal.
Jackson rallied in the final minutes of the half with another scoring opportunity when it got the ball to senior James Lummis, who blasted a shot dangerously close to the net from the top of the box.
Finding themselves in uncharted territory, the undefeated Broncs trailed 2-0 at the half.
With Morillon still sidelined, play went back and forth with few chances for either side to score early in the second half. Seven minutes into the half Morillon returned to the game and, despite an obvious limp, immediately applied pressure, narrowly missing a header from inside the box.
On corner after corner Morillon consistently beat players on the baseline and created dangerous chances in front. From the midfield he took the ball up the middle of the Bison defense numerous times, creating more chances or being fouled in the process.
As a team the Broncs knocked on the door repeatedly in the second half, applying constant pressure that eventually led to a Buffalo handball inside the 18-yard box. Morillon put away the resulting penalty kick.
With the score 2-1 and a little less than 20 minutes to play, Jackson crashed over and over again against the Buffalo defense like stormy waves into a granite wall, but the Bison defense was tough and weathered the onslaught.
Emotional players fell to the soaked turf dejected and exhausted when the referee signaled the end of the game. The heartbreak of the loss was palpable throughout the home stadium.
“We didn’t respond well to the first goal,” Coach Matt Hoelscher said. “Overall I thought we played a pretty good game, but we had a five-minute lapse that Buffalo took advantage of. We were just dinking around with the ball there for a couple minutes.”
After the game, Hoelscher consoled his players.
“That is what is so great about soccer,” he told them. “It hurts so badly because we wanted it so bad.”
The Bison moved on to face Star Valley — another big and strong team with solid defense — in the final. In the end, Buffalo had more skill and won the game 1-0.
In the third-place game Jackson faced a challenging Lander team that had pushed the Broncs to the limit several times this year,.
Lander held Jackson scoreless deep into the first half, when a free kick delivered a bouncing ball in front that was picked up by sophomore Christian Morales and put away just before the end of the half.
Three minutes into the second half freshman Tristan Wagner redirected a corner into the net to put Jackson up 2-0.
The game remained close, but junior Creel Smith, the Jackson goalie, kept everything in front of him, making at least one brave save on a breakaway and otherwise handling the cold, wet conditions well.
A questionable call at the end of the second half gave Jackson a penalty kick that all-state senior James Lummis drove home to seal the victory.
When the final whistle sounded the celebration was tempered by the rain and disappointment in letting the state title slip away.
It was a tough end to a season that had brought so many high hopes, but the team added a third-place finish to its first championship and still remains very young.
“It’s a good consolation,” said Lummis, “but that is all it is. A couple shots didn’t go our way. Buffalo played well, I don’t mean to take anything away from them, because they deserved to win that game. This team will have another chance next year, but not me. This was it.”
All-state captain Cesar Partida will also graduate this year along with Daniel Bates, Elliot Trott and all-state midfielder Jackson Reed.
The team, however, will retain Morillon and Horstmann, the top two scorers in the state, and will rely on a deep bench of returning underclassmen.