After a rough and tumble physical win over La Grande on Wednesday in the first round of the 4A soccer playoffs, Cottage Grove’s undefeated season came to an end in the quarterfinals with a 2-0 loss to McLoughlin on the road on Friday night.
“And I got to tell you, my guys were so polite. Played well, hard, physical. But not any kind of dirty play or anything else. And their team was the same way. It was the total opposite from La Grande,” said Cottage Grove head coach Vern Stewart.
In the quarterfinals the game was scoreless until things changed with 16 minutes left. Cottage Grove goalie Zach Stewart took an incidental kick to the face as he was going for a ball. Zach Stewart stood up and was ready to continue playing but because of concussion protocol, had to leave the game. In his absence, freshman Evan Snauer was moved into the goal and after a deflection off a defender, the Pioneers took a 1-0 lead.
Stewart returned to the game and McLoughlin then scored on a counter attack with six minutes left to earn their spot in the semifinals.
After the loss, Cottage Grove head coach Vern Stewart had nothing but positive things to say about how his team handled themselves in this game and all season.
“It meant a lot to me just how we handled ourselves in adversity, if you want to call it adversity. It may even be a bad term because there was nothing negative out of that game that I took. Nothing whatsoever,” said Stewart.
“With all the negative stuff happening in our world to have such fine young men… on my team just means a great deal to me.”
The game was a clear juxtaposition of their game on Wednesday night.
Through bumps, bruises, blood, yellow cards, a fateful crossbar, defensive lapses and an overtime goal, Cottage Grove began their playoff run with a 3-2 home victory over La Grande in the first round of the state playoffs.
“We survived it and now the journey begins,” said Vern Stewart. “This is where the fun is. I already told these guys they did the hard work, the Sky-Em league, and this is all gravy. Every game you play is gravy.”
In the opening minutes of the game it was La Grande, winners of five of their last six games, who used their speed and crisp passing to control the game.
It was Tigers early until a Lions corner kick in the 9th minute found Cervantes. The ball was played short and then whipped in and found George Cervantes who controlled and slipped in a goal to put Cottage Grove up early.
But not 30 seconds later it was La Grande who sprung right into action and found their speedy freshmen striker Callum Ebel who got past the Lions' back line and scored the equalizer.
“And that’s the danger. When you score, there’s a five minute window that coaches always talk about. Five minutes after a score and it can go either way. You can either score again in five minutes or the other way. Because there’s a let down or whatever you want to call it. And they ended up scoring and then it was just back and forth the whole time,” said Stewart.
In the 20th minute La Grande was poised to take the lead but the ball bounced off the top crossbar and out for safety for Cottage Grove. As the half was drawing to a close the physical nature of the game grew. Cottage Grove’s Lathan VanWagner was carried off, the first of three times, after he was taken out by a hard challenge.
The frenetic pace continued into the second half.
After getting hit in the face with the ball in the 62nd minute Cottage Grove’s Konrad Raum had to come off because he was bleeding.
“I had to go out and [there was blood] on my jersey and they said you can’t play if it’s on your jersey and then my brother came in clutch for me,” said Raum who swapped his bloody #20 jersey for his brother Shane’s, who is on the team but was not in the game, #13 jersey.
With less than 10 minutes to go, it was Paesen Timm who created space at the top of the box to find the back of the net and put the Lions up 2-1.
“I saw the kid running up and I was like I’ll just turn and take it with my left,” said the right-foot dominant Timm. “So he slid and I turned and took it with my left and it went perfect in the left corner.”
Two minutes later it was La Grande again who tied things up with a goal from Cristian Miramontes.
All tied up, there was then a sequence in which a Tiger defender brought down Cottage Grove’s 6’6 Jasper Nichols-Ferguson. A brief shoving match ensued between the teams and La Grande received a yellow card.
With tensions high, regulation ended in a tie and the teams were off to two overtime periods. The first overtime the Lions controlled possession. As Vanwagner was driving he got brought down by a slide tackle from behind that warranted another La Grande yellow card. It was then in the second overtime with five minutes left to play that the Lions struck. Running into the box was Raum and a La Grande defender. Raum stayed on his feet and nudge the ball slowly in for the winning goal.
“I don’t know exactly what happened,” said Raum on the game winner. “All I know is the guy came and we collided each other. Luckily he fell down and I had a tap onto it and it was going in really slow and the guy tried slide tackling it out but ended putting it in. I don’t know if it would have gone in with my touch but it was one crazy experience.”
The whistle sounded and the Lions were on to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“Konrad made it happen. A lot of people say that’s just a lucky goal but he was in the right place at the right time. I don’t care what you say and we will give him credit for that,” said Stewart.