NOBLE — The challenge, now, for the Norman North boys, whose soccer season ended in a 2-1 Class 6A state championship game loss to Edmond North Saturday afternoon at Noble Stadium, will be separating the game from the season.
Because the season was terrific, full of overcoming adversity and obstacles, from a Crosstown Clash regular season loss to a Crosstown Clash playoff victory that kept the Timberwolves moving toward their third state title game in four seasons.
The game, though, wasn’t.
North entered halftime up 1-0 despite having a goal taken away on an offsides call and a couple of other opportunities that were plenty promising but netted nothing.
The T-Wolves outshot the Huskies 6-2 in the first half and kept Edmond North keeper David Atkins busy making three saves.
But the second half was a debacle.
Before North had put another shot toward the Husky goal, the Huskies had forged the final score. But for one mad scramble in front of the Edmond North net, the Huskies were hardly even made to hold off a desperate bunch of T-Wolves.
North coach Geo Claros had seen a similar thing happen against NHS and Owasso the previous two playoff rounds. Only this time, it cost North the game.
“It’s been an issue throughout the playoffs,” he said. “We talked about it at halftime; if we’re going to win this thing we can’t give up a goal. We’d given up a goal in the second half of every playoff game, pretty much, and if it happened today, we were going to be in trouble.”
Already, Edmond North had owned second-half possession and already, the T-Wolves had escaped a couple of Husky chances by the skin of their teeth when they were then made to defend a corner kick with 19 minutes remaining.
Edmond North’s Clay Collier was camped out just off the far post. The ball came right to him and all he had to do was deflect it with his head. North keeper Daniel Taylor had no chance to get in the way.
Just 3 1/2 minutes later, as North continued living in its defensive zone, Edmond North’s Trevor Moore sent a knee-high rocket at Taylor, who stopped it but couldn’t corral it. All alone, the Huskies’ Sam Brown found the ball at his feet and easily tucked it inside the net.
“We played a great first half and got a goal and we didn’t come out with the same intensity in the second half,” North senior forward Jonathan Newton said. “They came out with more intensity and beat us.”
Claros gave credit to the Huskies, while wishing his team hadn’t fallen into a familiar trap.
“They were able to find another gear and we sat on our heels and tried to hope our way across the finish line,” he said. “It may have worked once, twice, but it’s not going to work three times.”
North scored its goal with 7:08 remaining in the first half on the strength of three strong individual plays.
First, Mauro Cichero, surrounded by Huskies, controlled the ball out of a pile and expertly tapped it back to Ryan Johnson. Next, with a single touch, Johnson served it into the box while Cichero and other T-Wolves sprinted toward the net hoping to make a play on it. Finally, one of those sprinters, Carson Cacciatori, headed the ball past Atkins.
North’s only strong chance of the second half materialized inside of 5 minutes remaining when Ashton Bray played a free kick into the box to the head of Cichero.
Cichero’s header was deflected short of the net, but a scramble ensued and the ball eventually found the foot of Newton near the top of the box. Newton got the shot off. Atkins stopped it.
Bray played a 60-yard free kick 2 minutes later that Atkins had to tip over the crossbar. The corner kick that followed yielded nothing.
“We made two big mistakes and that’s all that mattered,” Bray said. “We made two big mistakes and they capitalized and that’s all it takes.”
It was a tough way for the season to end. Of course, victory aside, there were no good exits.
“It’s been a season of ups and downs. It’s a good group of boys that have a accomplished a lot over their years,” Claros said. “It stings, but we’ll get over it, we’ll prop our heads back up and realize this is something special.”
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