Crookston can't pull off stunner, falls 2-1 to East Grand Forks in playoffs
EAST GRAND FORKS — About 25 minutes were left in the game when the entire Crookston bench rose up to stand. The Pirates didn't sit down again until after the clock hit all zeroes.
Because, well, why would they? How could they? Jacob Miller had cut East Grand Forks' 2-0 lead in half with his 50th-minute tally, and from that point on, the stadium buzzed with energy. The Green Wave had beaten Crookston twice previously this season. Neither contest was close.
This, though? This was a game.
This was the Section 8A playoffs, win-or-go-home. The Pirates not only didn't want to go home, they played like it, putting forth perhaps their strongest effort of the season.
But when the final horn sounded, Miller's goal was all that they had.
No. 2 seed East Grand Forks eked out a 2-1 win over No. 7 seed Crookston Monday. The Green Wave improved to 8-2-1 on the season and will face Bemidji in the quarterfinals Thursday. The Pirates' season, at 2-9, is over.
"They put just maximum effort in," said coach Lon Boike. "They made a lot of really, really good things happen. Just couldn't get that second goal. ... It hurts to lose, but you can't feel bad about your effort."
The game was scheduled to start at 4 p.m., but didn't kick off until 4:34 because the officiating crew didn't show up on time. This might have been due to two officials thinking the start time was later, but whatever the reason, the two teams had an extra half-hour to kill.
"Waiting is hard for everybody when you're all warmed up and ready to go," Boike said. "We had to go out and restretch and jog a little bit and get ready. But I don't think it affected us at all, we were pretty loose."
After a 6-0 loss to the Green Wave in last Tuesday's regular-season finale, Boike knew his team's best chance at competing in the playoffs was to go all-in on defense, especially with striker Noah Kiel (Sr.) out with a hip injury. So he switched Crookston's formation from a 4-4-2 to a 5-3-2 in an effort to keep the score low.
Kole Chupka had other ideas. The senior, who didn't play last Tuesday due to an injury, finished off a Hamse Ismail cross to give East Grand Forks the lead in the 12th minute. Chupka scored a second goal just eight minutes later off an assist by Tommy Ellis, but the Pirates settled down enough to keep the score at 2-0 heading into halftime.
"Defensively, we were fantastic," Boike said. "The kids played so hard and intense, and got after it and made for a really good game."
The Green Wave continued pressuring out of halftime, but 10 minutes into the second half, Crookston flipped the game on its axis. Junior Blaine Andringa cleared a ball into the East Grand Forks zone, and Miller, one of the fastest players on the field, caught up to it.
But it was Miller's strength, not his speed, that really made the difference. With the ball still at his feet, he managed to wall off a Green Wave center back and get in close-range. Once goalkeeper Jonah Tollefson came out of his net, the senior snuck a little trickler past him into the right corner.
"That brought everybody to life," Boike said. "... Everybody's off the bench, and we kind of started to feel it a little bit."
Miller's goal was as visible a momentum shift as there is in soccer. The Pirates outshot the Green Wave in the second half, and for the most part, possession was even. Crookston's finishing touch, though, wasn't quite there.
The Pirates had one last chance to make magic happen in the final minute, as a loose ball bounced just past senior Noah Dragseth 30 yards from goal in the middle of the field. Dragseth nearly won the race to it, but couldn't overcome an initial bad angle. East Grand Forks took the ball, and the win.
After the handshake line, the Pirates kneeled in a large circle around their coach, who told them how proud he was of them. In particular, Boike addressed his six active seniors — Miller, Dragseth, Gabe Montieth, Gavin Anderson, Kaleb Thingelstad and Nolan Dans.
Before kickoff, Boike had reminded them that it might be their final soccer game in a Crookston uniform and told them to make the most of it, leaving everything on the field and leaving no regrets behind. In the bittersweet postgame huddle, he asked them if they thought they had, indeed, given it all they had.
All answered yes.
UP NEXT: East Grand Forks advances to take on No. 3 seed Bemidji. The Lumberjacks defeated No. 6 seed Fergus Falls, 1-0, on Monday night in their own first-round game.
The Pirates lose seven seniors in all, including Kiel, who scored six goals this season to lead the team for a second year in a row.
"I like the progress that we've made," Boike said. "It might not have always shown on the field, but we made a lot of good progress with kids and I think we got a really good JV squad coming up that I'm looking forward to working with over the next few years. We're certainly gonna miss our seniors a lot."
- 11:13: Kole Chupka (East Grand Forks) assist Hamse Ismail
- 19:03: Kole Chupka (East Grand Forks) assist Tommy Ellis
- 49:41: Jacob Miller (Crookston) assist Blaine Andringa
- Crookston: Kaleb Thingelstad 6 saves (5 first half, 1 second)
- East Grand Forks: Jonah Tollefson 2 saves (1 first half, 1 second)
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