That’s what Danny Brill and Matt Eronemo were the last time Kentwood High School won a boys soccer game against Tahoma.
They were seventh-graders.
Now, Brill and Eronemo are senior veterans. Last Saturday afternoon, they also were among the happiest guys on the field when the Conquerors finally halted a stretch of five years and 10 games without a victory against their neighborhood rivals.
And from their perspective, at least, the timing couldn’t have been better. Kentwood’s 3-1 decision over Tahoma in the one-round, single-knockout West Central District playoffs at Bethel High School secured a spot in the Class 4A state tournament – a place the Conquerors haven’t been since 2002.
When Brill and Eronemo were sixth-graders.
“Me and Matt and the seniors guys – we’ve never beaten them,” said Brill, who helped set up a textbook goal by Ryan Carlson to put the Conquerors on the board near the end of the 23rd minute.
“It sucks that we couldn’t make the playoffs any previous years,” added Eronemo, a stalwart at midfield. “So we had to make sure to go as far as we could.”
The Conquerors (12-4-2), whose other goals came from Conner Biggs and Ryan Curtis, were guaranteed of going far for their state opener – all the way south to Vancouver on Tuesday night to take on the Mountain View Thunder (results unavailable). The first round and quarterfinals of state are loser-out. The four survivors gather next weekend at Harry Lang Stadium on the Clover Park High campus for the semifinals and trophy games.
Tahoma’s season ended with an 8-4-6 record. The Bears won or tied 10 of their last 12 games (8-2-2) after an 0-2-4 start that had them well outside of the South Puget Sound League playoff picture, let alone the district playoffs.
“They were by far the hottest team,” Kentwood coach Aaron Radford said of the Bears. “They had everything in their favor except that it’s tough to beat someone three straight times.”
Or, in this case, five straight times. The last occasion on which the Conquerors managed even a point against Tahoma was in 2006 when the teams played to a 0-0 tie in their only meeting of the year. Since then, the Bears swept the 2007 season series, 2-0 and 1-0, and this year’s series, 3-2 and 2-1.
“We made it count when it mattered,” Eronemo said. “We took care of them when it counted more. We obviously learned after the first game (this spring) to make sure that we had our heads straight and to come out with more intensity.”
Tahoma matched that intensity during the early going of last Saturday’s game. But it also disappeared at times, and Bears coach Lance Fischbach said that ultimately was costly.
“We had the run of play for 20 minutes, then had a couple mental lapses, and all of a sudden, we’re down 2-0,” Fischbach said. “We had the momentum a little bit, and we just couldn’t hold onto it. That’s just the way the game goes.”
Kentwood seized that momentum with its first goal. On a counterattack, senior midfielder MIchael Fuller sent a long through ball down the left wing side. Brill chased it down in the corner and crossed it into the box to Carlson, who was stationed no more than a couple yards in front of the next and pounded the ball into the back left corner at 22:54.
The Conquerors doubled the lead to 2-0 just 7 1/2 minutes later – and again, it was on the counterattack. Conner Biggs and Brill ran soccer’s equivalent of a basketball fast break downfield, with Biggs kicking it forward to Brill, who sent it back to Biggs near the top of the penalty area restraining arc. Biggs launched it into the upper left corner at 30:25.
But instead Kentwood taking that momentum into the intermission, it was Tahoma that snatched it right back with just 14 seconds to play in the half. Darioush Kazemi floated a corner kick from the left side toward the middle of the six-yard box in front of the Conquerors’ net, and James Schmidt went up and nodded a header into the back right corner.
“We knew that any little change of pace in their favor was going to give them that much more strength, because they all work really hard,” Brill said of the Bears.
“That was a pretty crucial goal for them. Good things we had our heads focused and came out strong (for the second half),” Eronemo added.
Kentwood regained its two-goal margin at 64:50. Ryan Curtis, taking a free kick about 35 yards away toward the left side of the field, sent his shot through traffic and into the back right corner, making it 3-1.
Tahoma wasn’t able to get a serious chance to cut into the lead during the final 16 minutes.
“We were off today, and they were good,” Fischbach said. “We didn’t change what we did (from the first two games), and they didn’t change what they did. They were just more effective.”