Behind for nearly 25 minutes, Zack Williams took matters into his own hands.
A foul called in the box set up the Rapid City Stevens striker with a penalty kick, which he aimed right and converted on to level the match with Sioux Falls Roosevelt at 1-goal apiece in the 53rd minute. He then took possession of the ball less than 60 seconds later, and blistered a shot into the top-right corner of the net to put his team ahead.
The Raiders then staved off several attempts from the Rough Riders to hold on to a 2-1 victory Tuesday evening at Sioux Park, and clinch a spot in the Class AA Boys Soccer State Championship game Saturday in Huron.
“I was just doing my thing, playing how I wanted to play and having fun,” Williams said. “That’s the most important thing. When I’m having fun, I’m playing my game.”
Stevens (13-0-1) will face O’Gorman (9-4-3) Saturday in its fourth title game appearance since 2013. The program last won it all in 2015.
“We know we’ve still got work to do,” Raiders head coach Jeff Fierro said. “We’re just going to enjoy it tonight and go back to work tomorrow. We’re not done.”
Stevens kept Roosevelt (10-3-0) away from the net for much of the first half, while its offense earned multiple chances off corner kicks and set pieces, but failed to get any of its five shots on goal to find the back of the net. The Rough Rider attack finally broke through in the 29th minute when Gavin Groos scored on a penalty kick to give Roosevelt a 1-0 advantage at halftime.
Raiders goalkeeper Shawn Bauer punched out a shot off a corner in the 48th minute to keep his squad’s deficit at one. Williams then turned that one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead five minutes later.
“Zack’s an amazing player and he had a good game tonight. They seemed to target him a lot,” Fierro said. “He was fouled a lot, they picked up yellow cards trying to guard him, trying to cover him, and he responded well. Kept his composure and did what he had to do.”
The Rough Riders picked up four corners in the final 15 minutes, and had a couple of close calls at net, but failed to get a shot in. Fierro said he switched up his strategy for the closing minutes.
“We did bring some guys back defensively. Normally we would’ve had some of the guys up top to help us with the attack,” he said. “For a bystander, that might look like we were taking a beating, but they put all of their numbers up so we had to respond by bringing some of our numbers back too. That’s when Zack had some of his best opportunities because it was him versus one or two guys, and he’s really effective there.”
In another physical contest for Stevens, Roosevelt was handed down seven yellow cards and one red card, all in the second half. Both squads committed 17 fouls, while the Raiders stayed card-free for all 80 minutes.
“We’ve talked about composure since day one, and we’ve talked about what it means to stay composed, and I thought they did an amazing job of staying composed,” Fierro said. “Both when they were down, and when the other team started to get extra aggressive.”
The Raiders remain undefeated in 2020 and tied a school record for wins in a season with the victory. They’ll be able to break that mark in the state championship game Saturday against the Knights, who they did not meet during the regular season. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. Mountain time at Tiger Stadium in Huron.
“Whoever is the winner of Watertown-O’Gorman, you better watch out,” Williams said. “We’re coming to play.”
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