CEDAR RAPIDS — Prairie High School might have a new tradition.
It goes like this: John Wall Field’s gates open bright and early the Saturday before Memorial Day (yes, breakfast pizza is for sale). The boys’ soccer team adjusts to a 9 a.m. kickoff to win a high-intensity game. A state-qualifying banner is passed around for dozens of posed photos. Then, senior members of said soccer team hurry off to a 12:30 p.m. commencement ceremony.
“Right when you wake up, you’re playing for something that means everything you’ve worked for all season,” Prairie Coach Curt Lewis said.
It’s a day to make memories and experience emotions, and this year, the mood was contingent on someone scoring a late tie-breaking goal.
Junior forward Mateaus Lewis was that someone Saturday, converting a 76th-minute penalty kick to send No. 2 Cedar Rapids Prairie (14-1) to the state tournament for the second straight year with a 2-1 Class 3A substate final win over Cedar Falls (11-8).
“I’m eager to get back,” Mateaus Lewis said. “I’m happy. We want to be there. I think we can do some damage this time. It’s different. We’re more experienced this year.”
Prairie is the second seed and will look for its first ever win at state in a 3A quarterfinal against No. 7 seed Ankeny (15-4) at 5:15 p.m. Thursday at Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines.
The Hawks were ranked No. 1 last year, but lost in the quarterfinals for the second time. Relying on postseason experience again, this year’s team preached patience when Cedar Falls tied the game in the 58th minute on Tanner Tangen’s well-struck volley off a set piece that wasn’t defended properly.
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“Last year we probably would have been flustered because we always had the lead, but this year we’ve come back so much, especially recently,” Mateaus Lewis said. “We knew that our offense, our top four is one of the best around and that they can’t stop it.”
The Hawks piled up corner kicks (18, seven in the second half) and long throw-ins but the finishing touch was missing on this day, unlike a 5-1 win over CF three weeks ago. But their persistence was rewarded when Andrew Russell was brought down in the box trying to control a Boston Riley throw-in. Penalty.
Mateaus Lewis and classmate Jayce Smith have been rotating as the designated penalty taker this season. Smith scored the opening goal five minutes from halftime when his cross somehow went through everyone and bounced into the side netting. He told Lewis to take the PK.
“We talked about it and he said, ‘you got it, I trust you,’” Lewis said. “Glad I put it in.”
So are Prairie’s seniors, who could change into caps and gowns knowing their high school careers aren’t over quite yet.
These players want to start a new tradition next week — “we’re going to go there expecting to win this thing,” Smith said — but Mateaus Lewis laughed when thinking about what an early wake-up call the Saturday before Memorial Day might be like next year.
“Graduation, hopefully we just skip it next year,” he said.
There will be time for diplomas and banners, both, provided the required homework and tie-breaking goal are turned in.
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