Samantha Donnay saw the clock hit zero, heard the final horn and put her hands on her head. It took her ten seconds before she gathered the strength to join the handshake line.
You didn’t need to look at the scoreboard to figure out who won Sunday’s game between Minnesota Crookston and MSU Moorhead. It was all there, all in one glance at Donnay squatted on the ground, clutching her orange shinguards, eyes vacantly pointing in the scoreboard’s direction.
Home 1, Visitor 2.
The Golden Eagles knew that wins or results would be tough to come by coach Kyle Halfpop’s first season. That didn’t mean this one didn’t sting.
Especially when it came with a goal — just their fourth this entire season — a Maggie Peterson shot from outside the box in the 86th minute. And with one of their best efforts of the year, coming off a disappointing 6-1 loss at Northern State on Friday.
Instead, it merely became Minnesota Crookston’s 14th loss in 14 games. To one of its biggest rivals, no less.
“I thought we actually played well both halves,” Halfpop said. “Just, that's soccer sometimes.”
Peterson’s goal was well-deserved. The Golden Eagles were outshot, 8-1, in the first half, but thanks to an adjustment up front, they put together a number of coherent attacking opportunities after the break.
“We just wanted to threaten them high, kind of a false-high striker and bring somebody short to build into the play,” Halfpop said. “That allowed us to get more numbers forward in midfield and our outside backs could get forward a little bit quicker.”
Added Peterson: "We started off with the defenders and they were able to do their jobs by swinging the ball, and then the midfield did their jobs by getting the ball and looking for the forwards. It was just all around teamwork to get the offense moving."
The result? Two corner kicks in the first 15 minutes of the half, and a respectable four shot attempts compared to the Dragons' eight.
The last attempt was the most effective. Moorhead had made a change at goalie minutes earlier, and the Golden Eagles knew they could take advantage of Kennedy Rodgers' rust. Donnay charged down the right flank, just outside the penalty area but just close enough to draw Rodgers out of net. The freshman forward turned her back to wall the keeper off, biding enough time to lay the ball off to an onrushing Peterson.
"I think you could see it coming," Halfpop said. "We were creating more chances, and then the goal just came too late in the game. The second one was always going to be tough to get."
While Minnesota Crookston only found its flow down the stretch, the Dragons were in the drivers seat from the beginning. After a foul on Peterson and a free kick, the Golden Eagles couldn't get the ball out of the ensuing scrum, and Lindsey Brownell's chip floated just over Athena DiMario Done. Three minutes in, MSU-Moorhead was in control.
Minnesota Crookston mounted occasional challenges — a perfect 26th-minute corner kick sailed untouched through the box, while seconds later, Peterson made a nitfy left-to-right turn into a long-range shot on goal — but the Dragons added to their lead in the 63rd minute, again the result of a free kick.
The Golden Eagles' lack of depth, elite talent and the quick transition to a new coaching staff explain most of their struggles this year. Still, they've kept competitive with most opponents and done what they can with what they have.
That wasn't the case Friday afternoon in Aberdeen, per Halfpop. The effort level his team showed wouldn't stand, and he let them know it.
"Our team talk, there was a lot of frustration, lot of emotions that went into that," Halfpop said. "That helped, and obviously playing a game against Moorhead, a rivalry game, I think helped them get up for it. Took us about 20 minutes to get into the game or so, but once we got into it it was a good, competitive game.
"Having that rivalry, having that setback on Friday, that shows where the leadership is with that group because they really stepped up."
That, coupled with the emotions that ran before and after Sunday's contest, showed conclusively where Minnesota Crookston's priorities lie. No matter how much is stacked against it, this is a team that still desperately wants to put a stamp on its season.
It has two games left to do so.
"If we work hard like we did today we can get a dub," Peterson said. "And that's all we're working for."
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