116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Finally. For Cedar Rapids Prairie’s boys’ soccer program, it finally happened.
It, being a win at the state tournament.
In their fifth state tournament appearance since 2015, the No. 7-seed Hawks knocked off No. 2-seed Johnston in a 5-4 penalty shootout after 100 scoreless minutes in a Class 3A state quarterfinal game Wednesday at Cownie Soccer Park.
“This team, they believe,” Prairie (17-3) Coach Curt Lewis said. “We changed personnel, how we approached this game. We knew they sub a lot of guys so we subbed more today than we normally do during the year, but at this time we knew the value of having fresh legs.”
Prairie had come so close before in four previous state quarterfinal losses, including a penalty shootout as the top seed against Iowa City West in 2017.
Doubt could have crept in here. Three big second-half chances went just over the bar, just wide and just tipped by the fingers of Johnston goalkeeper Will Safris. A Johnston buzzer beater in regulation hung in the air and dinged off the bar. A Prairie lead in the shootout via an Aiden Neumann save went away with a Safris stop and extra kicks were necessary.
“We’ve trained for all scenarios,” Lewis said. “We’ve talked about every situation.”
Then, something went in Prairie’s favor. Finally. Johnston’s Cooper Vercauteren hit the crossbar in the sixth round of penalties, Prairie’s Kayden McMaster scored and the Hawks stormed on to the field with hugs and joyful shouts.
The Dragons (18-2) played without leading scorer Wilmont Manneh, who was sidelined after a red card in their substate final win over Iowa City High. That made the Hawks even more confident they could pull off the upset.
“Our defense is very good, I gotta give props to them,” McMaster said. “At some point during the game, I wasn’t playing my best and they covered me a lot. I’m very proud of them.”
Prairie will face defending champion Pleasant Valley (17-1), the 6-seed, in a semifinal game at 5:10 p.m. Friday.
The Spartans took down No. 3-seed Iowa City West, 2-0, Wednesday.
With most of its starting lineup back from the 2021 team, PV controlled the game Wednesday. But West (18-3) had a big chance to force the Spartans to sweat.
Michael Nelson drew a penalty kick with 13:04 remaining that could have tied the score at 1-1, but the 30-goal scorer sent this attempt over the bar.
“We have a little bit of a rule where the guy that gets fouled doesn’t take the penalty and I broke it today thinking that Nelson would shoot low and left and he went high and tight. It happens,” West Coach Brad Stiles said.
A few minutes later, Aidan Judd gave PV some cushion with a goal to make it 2-0 with 7:29 to go.
Judd had a big day, scoring his sixth goal of the season after contributing his fifth assist in the 45th minute with a ball over the top that Justin Ancelet latched on to and put into the net.
The Spartans’ state tournament shutout streak now stretches four games, including their 1-0 win over West in last year’s final.
“They pick off every pass and if the pass isn’t intercepted, then the touch is pressured,” Stiles said. “That overall team speed and that — really, it might just come down to day-to-day training and coaching that is difficult to get around.”
That shutout streak started with a 1-0 win over Prairie in the first round. The rematch comes Friday.
“I’m excited, but the job’s not done,” McMaster said. “Ready to keep going.”