Packers a goal short against Simley

By Scott A. Kolb

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN 

ROSEVILLE — Friday night’s quarterfinals round wasn’t too kind to the two Big Nine Conference boys soccer teams remaining in the Class A state tournament.

In the opening game of the bracket, Hermantown beat Mankato West by a 5-1 score at the Roseville Area High School Stadium.

The Austin Packers put forth a much closer battle in the late game of the state quarterfinals against the Simley Spartans. The second-seeded Spartans had more shots throughout the night, but the Packers defense kept it close.

In the end, the Spartans broke a 1-1 tie with a goal in the final minute to get the tournament win. The winning goal came with 59 seconds left in regulation.

Senior forward Oja Ena of Simley dribbled through the defense and banged a shot past Austin goalie Ryan Rasell for the 2-1 win. The last-second victory gave the Spartans a trip to the state semifinals.

The Spartans took the early lead in this game with a goal midway through the first half by Ben Royce. The first goal of the night came on a penalty kick in the 22nd minute.

“They had most of the offense and controlled the play in the first half, then we controlled the flow in the second half,” Austin coach Jens Levisen said. “It was a matter of who had the wind. The weather was that much of a factor. The guys would kick the ball in the air and you could see a wall where the wind knocked it down.”

Only the stellar efforts of Rasell and the Packers defense kept the contest this close in the first half. The Spartans came out firing and had a few close-in shots during the opening 20 minutes of the game.

Rasell, as he has been all season, was up to the task in the Packers net. He turned away most of the attempts by the Spartans, and finished with three saves on the night.

“Making it to state is a big step for the program,” Levisen said. “We were right in there and the defense played great. We showed everybody that we belonged in the state tourney.”

The Packers offense struggled to find its rhythm in the first half as the biting wind made it tough to aim shots. The Austin boys got things rolling in the second half and created some pressure on the Simley net. The Packers finished with four shots-on-goal.

Throughout the season, whenever the Packers have needed a big play they’ve turned to senior midfielder Jacob Brehmer. Once again, Brehmer delivered when his team needed a lift.

Defense held sway for both teams during the initial 30-plus minutes of the second half. The Packers offense then got it in close and the Spartans defense couldn’t prevent a shot from Brehmer. The Spartans interfered with the Packers shooter inside the crease and he got a free look.

Brehmer scored late in the second half to get the Packers back to a tie game. Brehmer scored off a penalty kick with five-and-a-half minutes left in the second half.

It would then be a defensive struggle to the bitter end in the driving rain. The clock wound down and it looked like overtime might be the next step, but the Spartans instead scored the decisive goal.

“The guy hit a shot with a minute left, and they’re seeded No. 2 for a reason,” Levisen concluded. “Our guys gave me everything they had and it was tough to see the season come to an end. But the only way you go out with a win is to win them all at state.”

Austin finished the season with a 14-6 overall record. This was the first ever trip to the state tournament for the Packers.

Simley (18-1-4) next plays third-seeded Hermantown (20-1) in Monday’s Class A semifinals at 2 p.m. Top-seeded Totino-Grace (18-3) plays unseeded Mahtomedi (15-3-3) in the early game of the semifinals at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.