OAK PARK HEIGHTS — There were plenty of anxious moments in Stillwater’s previous Section 4AA victories, but on Tuesday the Ponies had few worries while rolling over East Ridge 6-0 in the finals at Stillwater Area High School to earn a spot in the state tournament.
The Ponies (14-1-4), who have not lost to a Minnesota team all season, will face a team to be determined at one of four state quarterfinal sites on Oct. 24-26, with the semifinals taking place at the Metrodome on Oct. 29. Seedings will be announced on Saturday and the third-ranked Ponies should earn a No. 1 or 2 seed after voting by the participating coaches.
This marks the 16th section championship for hall of fame coach Phil Johnson, who announced in August that he was retiring after the season. After finishing a close second in the Suburban East Conference, the players have extended his coaching career by at least another week.
“I’m glad I’m not turning in uniforms (Wednesday), because that’s the reality,” said the coach, who has not dwelled on the fact that the next game could be his last, although the players are certainly not oblivious to his pending retirement. “We’ve minimized the discussions about myself and (assistant coach) John Johnson, who now have coached our last game on that field, but we gave a big hug afterward.
“Yes, it’s very gratifying to see all the alumni and we were there until the lights went off on the field talking in the parking lot and they know they joy they’ve had and it’s just like these boys playing with their buddies in a high school game. It’s satisfying to look up there and see that we have a young team that has lots of love for each other and for the game and they took care of business so decisively in a section game. Our focus has been on the seniors.”
The Ponies defeated East Ridge 2-1 during the regular season, but this was no contest — especially after Stillwater pulled away with two quick goals about 10 minutes into the second half for a 4-0 lead.
Patrick Roth sparked the Ponies while assisting on each of those first four goals and also knocked in a goal in the 22nd minute of the second half to provide a five-goal cushion.
“This was his finest game ever, and maybe historically in Stillwater the best assist game ever,” Johnson said. “We’ve had guys score goals, but assisting on four of them and scoring on another…. he was just not going to be denied.”
After scoring his first goal of the season in Saturday’s semifinals, Jared Allen headed in Stillwater’s first goal on Tuesday off a crossing pass to the far post by Roth. The goal, like each of the first three, started with a throw-in.
“It symbolized the kind of goals we’ve been working on connecting on, the hard drive to the line and the cross and the timing run or the header on the back post,” Johnson said. “Patrick is a superior player in what he does when he is marked and he’s the magic, but we needed to have runners on the back post.”
Roman Devine was next up for the Ponies, drilling a one-timer into the net from near the top of the box in the 27th minute of the first half.
“Roma was another key player and in this state is he is the most unsung player,” Johnson said. “He is snatching more steals, he is setting up more players, he is maintaining, and this is what Roman and Nathan (Purdie) help us do. When we don’t have the ball or when it’s 50-50, it’s soccer chaos and we’re pressing to win it. Roma takes us from chaos, Nathan takes us from chaos, into calm, and now our passing begins. They are the transition geniuses.”
Rasmussen scored the first of his two goals 10 minutes into the second half on a header that came off a crossing pass from Roth. Just moments later, Rasmussen struck again after coming in from the backside and drilling a shot into the upper corner for a 4-0 lead.
“You’re seeing a pattern here,” Johnson said. “We know that the measure of playoffs is the small things, that’s why you work so hard on set plays. Little did I know there was going to be a lot of little things done by a lot — it is a dream to have what you work on become successful and it’s an indication of everyone doing their run and their job.”
Roth eventually stepped up and scored a goal of his own in the 22nd minute on a feed from Charlie Farrington. Reserve Steig Peterson tacked on Stillwater’s final goal with less than nine minutes remaining as he slid down to push the ball through traffic and into the goal for a 6-0 advantage. James Menzies was credited with the assist.
“This was our best offensive performance, certainly, because it’s the highest number of goals we’ve scored in a game,” Johnson said. “We attacked, but we only had 14 shots on goal so this was not the normal high school confetti where you get 25 shots and two goals — that, to me, is confetti. This was a higher degree of percentage and effectiveness. Not one of these goals just rattled around and then it went in, this was about timing and personal commitment and technical effectiveness and finish, and we’ve had everything but that last touch all season.”
East Ridge 0 0 — 0
Stillwater 2 4 — 6
St — 12:00 — Jared Allen (Patrick Roth)
St — 27:00 — Roman Devine (Roth)
St — 10:00 — Sam Rasmussen (Roth)
St — 11:00 — Rasmussen (Roth)
St — 22:00 — Roth (Charlie Farrington)
St — 31:00 — Steig Peterson (James Menzies)
Shots on goal — ER: 3; St: 14.
Corner kicks — ER: 2; St: 8.
Fouls — ER: 7; St: 3.
Goalie saves — ER: Christopher Knight 8; St: Ben Wilhelm 3.