POCATELLO — Early in the second half with his team down 1-0 against Preston on Thursday, Century boys soccer coach Jamshid Roomiany half-turned to his bench and asked, rhetorically, “How can we not put it in?”
The first half of the 4A District 5 final had been 40 minutes of frustration for the No. 1-seeded Diamondbacks, who were robbed twice on brilliant saves by Preston keeper Zach Burnett and had several other chances go wanting while seeing the Indians score on one of their only chances of the half.
Although Century eventually got the equalizer not long after Roomiany’s ruminations, the Diamondbacks’ frustration continued for most of the second half, as the Indians, fighting hard, put up two more goals of their own.
Century, down 3-1, continued to threaten, but just like in the first half, the chances weren’t going in.
Star D-backs midfielder Mikey Montanez had to come off with an injury, the clock continued to tick down and, surely, thoughts started to creep in.
What if this is just like last year?
The Diamondbacks, top seed at the District 5-6 tournament a year ago, lost two straight games after a first-round win in a shocking collapse that left them out of the state tournament.
Now, despite not having lost to a District 5 rival all year, were they doing it again?
“This team, last two years, has been a really, really good team and has been unlucky, didn’t go to state,” Century coach Jamshid Roomiany said. “They were really, really nervous, because last year they were first too, and districts was the stage that they got knocked out.”
But finally, just when it looked certain that Preston was going to force a winner-take-all rematch for the district title, the dam broke for the Diamondbacks.
Century striker Brayden Stouse, who had a hat trick, scored two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation to tie it, and the D-backs wasted no time in the golden goal overtime, with Will Stilling rising at the back post to head home a Kieran Slack cross just over a minute into the extra time.
Stilling’s goal gave Century a 4-3 win, a district title and a place at the state tournament, which starts next week in Bonneville.
“It was a big game for us, because it’s going to help us at state,” Roomiany said. “Being 3-1 down, coming back in nine minutes, that’s incredible. ... Emotionally, this win is going to push us for state.”
Preston, which had played the Diamondbacks tough in two straight games, drawing 1-1 and losing 2-1 in overtime after a 4-1 loss in the first meeting between the two, came out looking to attack.
“We told the boys, the more we control the ball, the less defense we’re going to have to play,” Preston coach Kira Matthews said. “We have to go at them, and we came out strong and that’s when we got the first one.”
The Indians opened the scoring early in the first half when Tyce Shumway volleyed in a goal from the right side of the box.
Century responded with a long period of pressure, but the Diamondbacks couldn’t break through. Burnett made several saves, including two highlight ones, stopping Stilling on a breakaway and scrambling to block Kam Murdock at the back post.
Stouse equalized for Century early in the second half, heading Murdock’s free kick down and past Burnett, but the next two responses were all Preston.
Ty Miller took a through ball past the Century keeper and smashed it into the open net to give the Indians the lead back, and Kadin Reese curled in an exquisite free kick that froze the keeper, kissed the underside of the crossbar and settled into the net.
Reese finished the season on fire as he scored in Preston’s final six matches. Additionally, the senior found the back of the net in three of the four showdowns with Century.
“I think our team played phenomenally as a whole,” Matthews said. “Top to bottom, it takes our whole team, and our boys know that and they rely on one another for that.”
Down 3-1, Roomiany faced a decision — stay with the 3-4-3 formation he’d put in this week specifically for Preston, or switch back to Century’s usual formation with four defenders?
He stuck with the first option, and Stouse paid off his coach’s trust, first by turning in a low cross to get a goal back and then by taking a through ball, turning at the top of box and smashing a low shot to Burnett’s right for the equalizer.
“The whole discussion on the bench was whether we should keep our new formation or not,” Roomiany said. “We were hitting the post, this and that. But we were attacking constantly, there was nothing wrong with it. So with discipline, and a little bit of persuasion on the bench, we kept the course, and we scored. Every single goal, we earned.”
After the frantic finish, overtime was almost anticlimactic. Slack floated in a cross from the left, Stilling was the first one to it at the back post, and the Diamondbacks stormed the field, last year’s failures forgotten.
Century (11-1-2) will play the No. 1 seed from District 3 in the first round of the state tournament at Bonneville High School on Oct. 22.
Preston’s season is over. The Indians finished 10-7-2.