It had to be Leif Lofquist.
That’s what Soldotna boys soccer assistant coach Erik Dolphin thought Tuesday when the ball crashed into the back of his team’s net in second-half stoppage time to deliver Kenai Central a 2-1 victory over the host Stars in Peninsula Conference action.
The girls varsity contest went to Soldotna by the count of 3-0.
Lofquist is a freshman now, but when he was a seventh-grader, Dolphin coached Lofquist’s team to a state title in comp soccer.
In the title game, Lofquist scored a last-minute, game-winner, just like he did Tuesday.
“I didn’t even know at the start of the year I’d be starting on varsity,” Lofquist said. “It’s definitely a huge step up for me.”
The victory moves the Kardinals to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the league, while the Stars fall to 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the league.
“Kenai-SoHi games are always just a wild ride,” Kenai coach Joel Reemtsma said. “We like to keep the fans excited.”
The Stars suffered yet another heartbreaking loss after also giving up game-winning goals in the last five minutes to West Valley and Colony.
“We’re giving everybody problems,” Soldotna coach Darryl Byerley said. “I want to give them more than just problems.”
The Stars looked ready to give the Kardinals at least a tie after recovering from a Zack Tuttle goal on a Damien Redder corner kick in the 51st minute.
Just six minutes later, Eli Sheridan played a perfect ball forward to Luke Trammell, who left Kenai goalie Braedon Pitsch no chance on a blast to the corner.
“Give it to SoHi,” Reemtsma said. “They fought all the way to the end.”
With about a minute to play, Kenai earned a corner and the ball bounced off several heads in the box before SoHi attempted to clear.
Lofquist blocked the attempted clearance and the ball boomed off his leg and into the net.
“I’m not going to let this go to my head,” Lofquist said. “It was something that was a team effort.”
Kenai has a core group of players that helped a second-place effort at state two years ago and a tie for third last season, but the Stars stayed right with the Kards on Tuesday.
“We were just not passing the ball well,” Reemtsma said. “Our first touch was off.
“Our technical skills across the board were pretty poor today and SoHi’s were pretty good for the most part. They won the first half and were unfortunate to come out 0-0.”
Dolphin said his defense was very solid, with center backs Gavin Goggia and Ethan Bott, and outside defenders Zach Burns and Cameron Johnson.
The assistant also said the Stars were missing several starters.
“We played well overall, it was just tough to come out on the wrong end of the score,” Dolphin said.
While the Kards did not show good technical skills, Reemtsma said they still showed something important.
“I was happy with the heart we showed,” he said. “I was telling the guys after the game that digging deep and grit and determination to win the game at the end is something you can’t coach and that these guys have.”
Soldotna girls 3, Kenai 0
The Stars moved to 2-1-1, and 1-0-1 in the league, by taking down the Kardinals, who fell to 0-2-1 and 0-1-0 in the league.
Soldotna coach Jimmy Love said there are still things his team must improve, but he also wasn’t complaining after a big win over a fierce rival.
“I think everybody put in a good game,” Love said. “That’s the only way we could win the way we did.”
Love said he is keeping things basic this early in the season, working on possession, passing, positioning and communication.
He said all were on the upswing Tuesday except for positioning.
Journey Miller’s powerful right foot played a big role in the victory. Just five minutes into the game, she uncorked a shot from far out that squirted under Kenai Central goalie Kailey Hamilton.
“That’s something that happens like once every three years,” Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen said. “She’s a great goalie and was really looking forward today.
“I think she had the jitters just like everybody else.”
With eight new starters, Verkuilen was expecting to be outmatched skillwise.
“I was hoping our energy level would be there, but we came out flat,” he said. “I said, ‘What are you scared of? Soldotna has a nice team, but they don’t do anything flashy.’
“We played better when we started winning 50-50 balls.”
In the second half, the Stars used corner kicks, taken by Miller, to put the game away. Two minutes into the second half, Meijan Leaf connected on a corner. Just 11 minutes later, Cameron Blackwell cleanly volleyed a corner into the back of the net.
Love said the Stars let too many corner kicks get through the box in the first half.
“At halftime I told them, ‘This is a 1-0 game. You have to get your body on the ball,’” he said. “In the second half, I think only one corner kick got through the box.”
With a big lead, the solid defensive combination of center back Whitney Wortham and goalie Maddie Kindred was not about to let Kenai back in the game.
Verkuilen said the Kards made some correctable positioning errors on the corner kicks.
“All the goals could have been prevented,” he said. “It easily could have been a 0-0 game.”