It’s safe to say, the Demons’ mojo is back in their hands.
After an 0-7 start, the Durango High School boys soccer team finished its regular season on an eight-game unbeaten streak, dusting off rivals Montezuma-Cortez 3-1 in the second half for a taste of vengeance at Thursday night’s only homecoming event.
“They battle hard,” DHS head coach Scott Emrich said of his team. “Having lost their first seven games, it shows a lot of character to come back like this.”
It was Senior Day for Cal Lieb, Dylan Simonsen, Andrew Schackel, James Logan and Brennan Buiso, but the Demons’ underclassmen were at the forefront at Riverview Sports Complex.
Three second-half goals from three goal scorers – junior Nick Carlson and sophomores Tom Olson and Tim Hubertus – characterized a typical 2009 DHS blueprint for success: Score late, score often.
“(Panthers coach) David Robinson is a great coach, and they always play us tough,” Emrich said, noting that the Panthers could’ve been more competitive had senior Aaron Presnell played, instead of sitting out with a one-game red card suspension.
(7-7-1 overall, 7-2-1 Southwestern League) drew zeros against their rivals in an earlier meeting Oct. 9, and Thursday’s occasion seemed like it was headed toward the same conclusion after a goalless – and mostly lifeless – first half.
DHS had total control of possession and never conceded a shot, but near chances on headers from junior Greg Wickstrom and Lieb constituted the extent of their first-half attack.
“We didn’t want to shoot the ball for some reason,” Emrich said. “We changed a couple of things at halftime, and the boys stuck with it.”
The Panthers (3-10-2, 2-6-2) employed a sweeper on defense who disrupted the Demons’ organization, Emrich said, so DHS responded by sending an extra offensive player forward to keep tabs on the sweeper.
They looked like a different team.
Minutes into the half, Wickstrom made a move to gain space and sent a ball to a wide-open Lieb for a header, then junior midfielder Dylan Schwantes sent a service from just inside the midway line that met a sprinting Olson at the back of the Cortez defense in the box.
Olson leaped and flicked the ball behind his own head into the unguarded far netting for a 1-0 lead and a ringing endorsement for his headband attire.
“It was a great header,” Emrich said. “He hadn’t scored one in quite a while. That was a great free kick by Schwantes and a real good flick by Tom.”
With 15 minutes remaining, the Demons’ offensive strategy paid even more direct dividends.
Given the task of fronting the troublesome sweeper, Carlson chased a long ball into the Panthers’ box and took possession of a 50-50 ball, coolly finishing with a shot to the bottom right corner for a 2-0 advantage.
Hubertus tallied his team-leading sixth score of the season in memorable fashion soon after. The midfielder cut toward the penalty box after a short corner, feigned a look to teammates and fired a left-footed shot into the top right corner that a Panthers’ defender headed in vain on the goal line.
“It was something we’d been working on there, but it hadn’t been working out very well for us,” Emrich said. “It was designed to shoot far post, but he went near post. Awesome shot.”
The gritty Panthers scratched back to 3-1 with just a minute left, as junior J.J. Greer won a long ball in the Demons’ box, paused to compose himself and scored.
Never relenting in the attacking half, though, Logan nearly got the DHS seniors on the board when he hit the right post with a few seconds left.
Durango locked up a spot in the state playoffs with a 2-0 victory at Fruita Monument last Saturday. Emrich knows the Demons will be a low seed and will face a tough test on the road, but he also knows anything can happen in a single elimination postseason tournament.
“It’s a new season now,” he said. “Nobody has any wins yet.”