By Scott A. Kolb
Post-Bulletin, Austin MN
Three goals in the second half on Monday night carried the Austin Packers boys soccer team to its first ever appearance in a section championship game.
The Byron Bears, seeded third, were tied with the second-seeded Packers at halftime of this Class A, Section One semifinals game at Art Hass Stadium. The second half belonged to the Austin boys with a flurry of goals in the final minutes to secure a 4-1 win and a trip to the title round.
It was a perfect night for the Packers final home game of the season. The weather was mild and more importantly there were no other sports activities on the schedule, so the student section was packed. The boys on the field gave their fans in the stands plenty to cheer about with the biggest win in team history.
“Making it to the section finals is a big thing for our program; I’ve had e-mails all week from former players wishing us well,” Austin coach Jens Levisen said. “We controlled the ball and the offense came through in the second half. The defense was prepared for Byron, and they did a good job of limiting the shot opportunities.”
Spurred on by the boisterous crowd, the Packers came out firing right away in the first half. Jacob Brehmer of the Packers got open in front at just 10 minutes into the game, but his shot was blocked by Bears goalie Brock Anderson.
A short time later, Anderson had another save on a shot from the side by Francisco Torres. The pressure from the Packers never ceased as they put up 28 shots-on-goal for the night. Torres also had a penalty kick late in the first half that was knocked away, but the Packers had set the tone with their attacking offense.
Despite the Packers pressure, it was the Bears who scored the first goal. Ryan Baumbach took a crossing pass from Matt Thorpe and slipped it by Austin goalie Ryan Rasell. Byron had a 1-0 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half.
Less than two minutes later, the Packers answered with the first of two goals on the night from Martin Manocchio. Jacob Larson directed the pass to Manocchio, who tied the game with 12:35 left in the first half.
From this point on, it was only a matter of when the offense would break it open as the Austin defense didn’t let the Byron offense anywhere near the net. Still, it stayed tied well into the second half.
Pack take control
Rasell faced a few shots in the first half, but only needed four saves for the win. Just to keep the crowd entertained, Rasell ranged out from the net a few times to knock the Byron players off the ball. His high return kicks made sure the action stayed on the other end of the field.
“They got an open shot in the first half, but after that the defenders kept the ball away from me,” Rasell said. “The defense was amazing and it gave me the chance to watch our offense work at the other end. This is an incredible feeling to be going to the section finals.”
Throughout the initial stages of the second half, the efforts of Rasell and his defense were needed to keep the game tied. The Packers kept applying the pressure, but no more goals came until the clock ticked inside 17 minutes to play. When the Packers need a big play, they turn to Brehmer.
Beating the Byron defense, Manocchio laid down a nice pass to Brehmer in front of the net. This time there would be no block from the Byron goalie and Brehmer punched it past him. The goal by Brehmer sent the fans into a frenzy and the Packers were on top to stay with 16:29 to play.
“Marty gave me a nice pass and I had missed on some earlier chances, so I wanted to get off a good shot,” Brehmer said. “I placed it in the corner of the net and it was good to get that go-ahead goal. Everybody went crazy and our crowd was great.
“Our friends were all here from school and we wanted to give them a good show. The crowd was like a 12th man and they helped us play our best soccer of the season.”
Down the stretch, the Packers poured it on with a couple of more goals. Pedro Herrera nearly added to the lead when his shot hit the crossbar inside the final 10 minutes. This merely heightened the excitement for a wild finish.
Alex Klock provided the insurance goal inside the last five minutes. Showing off his defensive skills, Klock stole an in-bounds pass and took the ball down the sidelines. He made a quick cut to the net and fired it home for a 3-1 lead. Manocchio then capped the second half barrage with a goal at the 1:03 mark for the final margin of victory.
“We missed our first penalty kick of the season in the first half, but I’m glad we had to work for our goals and there was no question about the way we finished this game off,” Levisen said. “We were in control and that goal by Alex just sealed it. The guys kept attacking and we didn’t want to drop back to give them any shots. The players are pumped and it’s exciting to be headed for the section finals.”
Austin (13-5) plays top-seeded Rochester Lourdes for the Section 1A championship on Friday at 5 p.m. at Rochester Regional Sports Stadium.