By Tori Wittenbrock
Associate Sports Editor
GREEN BAY – In one of the highest scoring games of the season, Notre Dame Academy (NDA) (6-0-2 conf.) boys’ soccer was able to put up a one goal lead on De Pere (6-0-2 conf.), finishing the game 4-3, despite a hard fought comeback attempt by the Redbirds on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
“We had such a tough game ahead of us, and we knew going into this game that De Pere was going to give us everything that they had,” said NDA Head Coach Nic Sturdivant. “When we looked at the stats and the records across the board we were tied and we knew that it was going to be a battle, so it was great that our team came to play and came to win.”
In one of the biggest games of the season, both the NDA Tritons and the De Pere Redbirds had a lot on the line, battling it out to break the tie and take the Fox River Classic Conference (FRCC) Championship title.
The Tritons came out strong at home, taking the lead early on when forward Ian Noble got a breakaway in the Redbird’s penalty box and was able to sneak in a right-footed shot into the near post just a minute and 44 seconds into the match.
The Tritons continued their attack with Liam West’s hard runs down the sideline but their efforts were consistently stopped by De Pere’s Riley Nycz on defense.
West later slipped a ball through the Redbird’s back line to Noble, but De Pere’s defense was able to get behind the ball and stop the attack.
Eleven minutes into the game De Pere was granted a series of corner kick attempts that were finally stopped with an offsides call in the box.
Another attempt at goal from West to Noble was stopped by Redbird Goalkeeper Brayden Coyle.
A battle between the two teams ensued in the midfield as both teams were desperate to put points on the board.
As the game progressed, De Pere dropped centerbacks Nycz and Alex Hoops deeper, but by no means stopped their attack as they continued to send the ball up the field. Midfielder Jackson DeCleene chipped a ball into the box for his teammate James Dorchester to run onto but it was snatched up by NDA’s keeper.
Twenty-four minutes into the half, Hoops stepped up for a free kick and Nycz finished the job by heading the ball into the back of the net to tie up the game, 1-1.
De Pere seemed to gain a bit of momentum as midfielder Joe Picard was able to repeatedly get service into the box for Dorchester, but the Tritons kept a tight defensive line.
Moments later, West gained possession in the box and attempted to get a cross off but the ball was blocked by an aggressive slide tackle from Nycz who sent the ball out of bounds for an NDA corner kick.
Michael Kussow stepped up to the flag and sent the ball into the box to Henry McKenna who then headed it to West who finished the play off with a goal sent into the lower far post with 10 minutes to go in the half.
After a series of set play opportunities for De Pere — none of which they were able to find the back of the net on — Coyle made a big save for the team, clearing the ball up the field when the Tritons caught the Redbird’s backline in a moment of disorganization.
When the Tritons came out in the second half, they were determined to further their 2-1 lead in an effort to give themselves more security.
Noble was able to collect the ball and slip it into the near post for a 3-1 lead, just two minutes into the second half.
West later got a breakaway, but as he headed towards goal his efforts were delayed by Nycz until Coyle could come off of his line and grab the ball.
Coyle made another big save for his team when he stopped a 1v1 attack from Noble by sticking his leg out to deflect Noble’s shot out of bounds.
West was able to rip a shot off, 20 minutes into the half, which landed out of Coyle’s reach into the upper far post corner, increasing the Tritons’ lead to 4-1, leaving De Pere with 20 minutes left to overcome an improbable three-goal differential.
However, just one minute later, Dorchester fired off a power shot from inside the box that deflected off of an NDA defender for a goal that made the score 4-2, creating a major shift in momentum for his team.
Just two minutes later, Dorchester gained a subsequent goal as he launched a shot into the back of the net to set their comeback attempt in full motion.
In the final minutes of the match, Nycz’s shot was bobbled by the NDA keeper, but he was able to gain control before allowing it to cross the goal line. A De Pere corner kick with less than two minutes in the match prompted the Redbirds to pull their Coyle out of the net as a last ditch effort to find a necessary goal, but the Tritons’ proved their strength defensively, maintaining the 4-3 lead and securing the conference title.
Although the Tritons will surely take the time to celebrate their hard-fought victory, Sturdivant said that the team is still keeping themselves focused on what lies ahead for them going forward.
“(We are) just looking for a reset. A reset for the playoffs going forward and to continue to regroup and create an environment where the guys can thrive and just be the best that they can be. We are looking to go deep into the playoffs this year and hopefully bring home a State title.”
Strudivant said that he does have one big concern, however, for his players as they advance: “Just stay healthy. Stay healthy and stay competitive.”
The De Pere Redbirds will go on to play Appleton West at 7 p.m. at home on Tuesday, Oct. 17 in the WIAA regionals while the Tritons will take on The Prairie School at home on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 12 p.m. at home.