By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — When the Norman North boys beat whoever it is they’re going to beat to win their third Class 6A state soccer championship in five years, the Timberwolves will have Norman High to thank.
Probably, the Tigers don’t care. Maybe they’ll be rooting for Edmond North, or whoever it is when the game arrives. The consolation, to borrow a soccer term, is nil.
Yet the T-Wolves will know. Anyway, they should know.
NHS walked into North’s soccer complex Friday night and exited 4-2 losers. Really, it was a 3-2 game, but because it was a Clash, where there’s always another storyline, Carson Cacciatore finished off his hat trick with 12 seconds remaining just to make the loss sting the Tigers a little more.
“Everybody thought it was a toss-up game,” North coach Geo Claros said, “but we thought we were the better team.”
Well, here’s the story of that quote and here’s the story of the game and here’s the story of the North boys going forward.
It was a toss-up game, but only until it began to be played, because that was when the T-Wolves transformed themselves into a different and better team than they had been all season, and if the T-Wolves can remain that team for just two more games, they’re going to win another state title.
They may even have the knee injury Kyle Johnson suffered against Southmoore Tuesday to thank for the enlightenment his departure facilitated.
With Johnson unavailable to play his defender’s spot, Claros brought Jacob Jerles and his 12 goals back to the T-Wolves’ back line. He took Mauro Cichero, the human highlight film, soccer edition, and put him up top and he put Seth Liddell at the spot Cichero had vacated. And, all in one night, the way North played changed and for the better.
Rather than moving the ball up the field, station to station, the T-Wolves’ back line would play it directly to Cichero, simply bypassing the midfield, and he seemed to get to every ball first; with his head, his heel, his leg, whether he trapped it or flicked it to a teammate, he was dictating the game like a fantastic point forward on the basketball court.
“We made some mistakes in the first half,” NHS coach Gordon Drummond said.
That mistake was not covering the tallest and fastest player on the pitch like a blanket, which is pretty impossible to do anyway.
The first 10 minutes were back and forth, the next 30 were all T-Wolves, who led 3-1 at the break with Cichero in the middle of all three tallies.
He got the first touch on the corner kick that eventually became Cacciatore’s first goal. He finished off Sage Moore’s cross for a goal of his own and he picked a Tiger pocket before setting up Cacciatore 12:13 before the half.
“We knew we could exploit them,” Claros said.
Maybe, but it sure helped that Cichero played like his hair was on fire and his teammates followed suit, and that it doesn’t happen, not in the same way, against anybody but the Tigers. Now the T-Wolves know what they’re really capable of and it’s a much better game than they ever played on the way to an unbeaten regular season.
You better believe the T-Wolves have the Tigers to thank.
Not only did Claros’ chessboard moves give Cichero a chance to impact the game in ways he couldn’t have from the midfield, but it left NHS’ biggest presence on the pitch, senior midfielder Matt Hockett, without a whole lot to do defensively.
And, if Claros told his players they couldn’t foul, score another one for the coach, because North committed four the whole game and none in the first half and everybody who knows the Tigers this season knows Hockett’s lethal from anywhere inside of 40 yards, but the Tigers earned no free kicks from short distance.
It’s hard to quantify, but maybe Cichero’s the best player North’s ever had and maybe it’s as simple as the best player finding another gear because that’s what best players do.
There’s probably something to it, but give the Tigers a ton of credit. It was their best team in a long time, better than the one that played for a state title three years ago, and as great as North was Friday, it was still a one-goal game until 12 seconds remained.
The original side of town has nothing to be ashamed of and plenty to celebrate. It put a great team on the pitch. North put an equally great team on the pitch. Then they kicked it off and NHS pulled more out of North than it had offered all season.
Now the T-Wolves can go win it all.
Really, it’s that simple.
Follow me @clayhorning
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