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CEDAR RAPIDS — You could circle about half of the Cedar Rapids Prairie boys’ soccer team’s Mississippi Valley Conference schedule as games that may carry a little extra meaning for its numerous returners.
A young lineup last year dropped seven games by just one goal, all against MVC foes.
Thursday, a 3-2 win at Cedar Rapids Xavier made Prairie 3-for-3 in reversing those results so far this year.
“The ability to come to a very hostile environment at Xavier, who has a great tradition, to get two (second-half) goals, I’m ecstatic,” Prairie Coach Curt Lewis said.
Matching last season’s win total didn’t come easy for 3A fourth-ranked Prairie (9-0) in the first of four straight games against top-10 teams.
Luke Duball drew a 56th-minute penalty that Nick Koechner converted to put 2A No. 2 Xavier (3-2) up 2-1.
But the Hawks were first to just about every midfield ball and benefited from a strong wind at their backs. In less than two minutes, Prairie went from down one to up one.
First Mateaus Lewis sent in a through ball to Andrew Russell, who took a touch around backup goalkeeper Nolan Dostal and fired it home for his second goal of the evening in the 62nd minute.
Before Xavier could regroup, Caleb Halleran worked his way down the right wing, cut into the box and split two defenders, drawing a penalty in the process. Mateaus Lewis drilled the ensuing spot kick into the lower left corner for the winner.
“I think the first half wasn’t as dominant because we didn’t have the wind,” Russell said. “In the second half we really took advantage and that’s when we started to score.”
Russell put the Hawks up 1-0 in the 24th minute after a beautiful sequence that included a Jayce Berger flick to Halleran, who centered to Russell. The sophomore doubled his season goal tally in one night.
“He’s on the verge,” Lewis said of Russell. “We changed the system today to see him a little bit more and you could just tell that something was going to happen.”
Xavier lost starting keeper Owen McCarron to injury, didn’t play leading scorer Thomas Bean in the second half after a yellow card and was already without Will Hanigan, who had a team-leading 23 assists in 2016 and should be back in one to two weeks.
“With Will and Thomas it’s a dynamic trio and it’s so much easier,” Xavier Coach Amir Hadzic said. “But now, that’s so much on (Duball’s) shoulders.”
Matthew Been equalized in the first half with a shot from distance that slipped through Max Smith Drahos’ hands.
“I think Prairie deserved to win,” Hadzic said. “They played well, were physical and executed their game plan.”
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