By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
KAUKAUNA – The De Pere Redbirds boys’ soccer team secured its ticket to state Saturday, Oct. 28, in a game against Hudson — the outcome of which came down not only to the last minute, but well beyond it.
Junior Joe Picard scored De Pere’s first and only point early in the game, kicking in a pass from junior Charlie Tollefson just seven and a half minutes into the first half.
Senior James Dorchester brought the ball back towards the goal soon after to attempt a second point for De Pere just under 10 minutes into gameplay, but was blocked by Hudson’s defense.
De Pere goalie Brayden Coyle blocked two successive attempts on the goal around the twelve-minute mark, leading into a bout of uneventful play.
Nearly 10 minutes after De Pere’s first point was scored, senior Madden Skurka made an attempt on the goal which was thwarted by Hudson’s goalie.
Hudson retaliated quickly, bringing the ball down to the other end of the field for an attempt to even the score, but Coyle plucked the ball out of the air before it could enter the net.
The pressure was on, but De Pere Head Coach Martin Valenzuela said that’s when his team performs best.
“There was a lot of pressure right from the beginning,” he said. “They like working under pressure. We had a lot of games during the season where we kind of had to fight back, but they did it.”
With less than seven minutes remaining in the first half, De Pere freshman Maxim Skurka lined himself up for a shot on the goal which went awry after Hudson’s goalie got a hand on it.
Hudson rounded out the final five minutes of the first half with three more unsuccessful shots at the goal — two of which were blocked by De Pere and one of which went clear over the goal.
Hudson came into the second half looking to settle the score, but De Pere was determined not to allow it with Coyle and De Pere’s defensive players blocking several attempts on the goal within the first 15 minutes.
De Pere’s lead came to an end with just over 20 minutes left in the game as the Hudson Raiders scored their first goal, bringing the game to a tie.
De Pere recoiled quickly with a near miss on a second point at the 61-minute mark and a second attempt just four minutes later blocked by Hudson’s defense.
The final fifteen minutes of regulation gameplay kept the score tied up at 1-1 with several saves made by Coyle and De Pere’s defensive players putting up a strong front while Hudson funneled shot after shot towards the goal, granting the Redbirds only one more attempt at scoring in the second half.
The second half might not have provided the boost in score either team had hoped for, but Coyle said it boosted morale.
“Definitely after all the saves I had [in regulation play], I had so much confidence going into overtime,” he said.
With the game still a draw and a ticket to the state tournament on the line, the Raiders and Redbirds prepared for 10 minutes of overtime to decide their fate.
Both teams managed to keep the ball away from their goals for the first five minutes of overtime, and all attempts at scoring in the remaining five minutes proved unsuccessful — Hudson sent a ball high over the goal and a shot from De Pere skewed far to the right on the other end of the field.
The initial bout of overtime ended with the Raiders and Redbirds still tied, and so another ten minutes was put on the clock.
Hudson began their attack on the goal early but was blocked by De Pere’s goalie and defense at all three attempts in the first two minutes.
The Redbirds made their final attempt at settling the score with just two and a half minutes of overtime remaining but came up just shy of a goal and Hudson missed their final attempt just a minute and a half later.
A total of 20 minutes played in overtime had no influence on the score, which meant penalty kicks would be the deciding factor in whose season would come to an end and who would advance.
Both Hudson and De Pere’s first kicks were successful, but the Redbirds started on their path to victory when Coyle blocked the Raiders’ second kick.
That first save, Coyle said, is what gave him and his team the confidence to finish strong.
“After I got that first PK save, it just made me more confident,” Coyle said. “And I gave that confidence to my team and they all felt it. I’m just proud of the team for making all the goals.”
De Pere brought the score up to 2-1 with a successful second kick, and the teams’ third kicks rendered the same result — a point for the Redbirds and a miss for the Raiders.
Tension was high as Dorchester stepped up to what had the potential to be the deciding kick of the game for De Pere, but he rose to the occasion, sending the ball straight to the back of the net and Redbird players and fans alike into a celebration.
“It was a rush of emotions,” Coyle said. “I started crying. It was great. I don’t know how to express it, just so happy for the team. We’ve been training hard for three months working up to this moment. It’s just a great payoff.”
Valenzuela said the outcome is a testament to the effort his team put in this season and to their ability to compete at a high level.
“The boys worked hard and they earned it,” Valenzuela said. “I’m happy that they were able to come out the winner… [Coyle] and the other keeper that’s on the bench and comes off when he needs it are probably the two best in the conference, and now they can prove that they’re some of the best in the state.”
For Coyle and the seven other seniors on the team this year, this will be their third time competing in the state tournament — an experience they’re looking forward to enjoying again, but only after they take a moment to soak in the win that got them there.
“The senior class has been there for all three trips, so the senior class is very eager to get on the field at Uihlein in Milwaukee,” Coyle said. “We’re ecstatic, but we’re gonna celebrate tonight first.”