TAMPA, Fla. - For the better third of this national championship, the Skyhawks' sometimes colorful cheering section was
peeping at Saturday's action through the pinnate leaves of Tampa's palm trees.
The first 20 minutes? Pretty good.
The middle 55 minutes? So-so.
The final 15 minutes? Pretty darn good, lads.
It was a scrappy game," Fort Lewis College head coach Oige Kennedy said. We didn't really get the flow of our own
game going, which is stringing passes together. The wind doesn't help when it's blustery like that; it's hard to keep
the ball down and play.
But all credit to our guys. We kept to what we needed to do to win the game, and that's the sign of a good team."
Ahem! The best team, coach.
No. 1 FLC defended its national ranking with a 1-nil shutout against No. 9 Lees-McRae in the NCAA Division II Men's
Soccer Championships on Saturday at University of Tampa Pepin-Rood Stadium to claim its second crown in five years.
For some, this was a chance at redemption.
Oh yeah," Final Four Offensive MVP David Barden said with a slow smile and an exhale in the postgame news
Barden and Tom Settle played significant minutes as freshmen in Fort Lewis' championship defeat to Dowling in 2006 in
Pensacola, Fla. Zane Wells, the Durango High School alumnus cum FLC goalkeeper, was a reserve for the '06 runners-up.
At halftime, I was thinking about that (2006), the difference between that game and this game, if I was feeling
nervous or not. I sat back in the locker room and felt comfortable. I looked around at the guys, and players were
bouncing on their knees, ready to go, giving each other support.
We knew as a team, we were going to go back out and turn it around."
Barden did his part. He pleaded Kennedy to let him play a full 45 minutes after the break.
'Don't take me off, coach,'" he said. 'I want this.'"
With a lucky 13 left on the clock, he got it.
The signature service that led to six of the Skyhawks' eight goals in Thursday's semifinal was all but absent from
We tried to stop their service," Lees-McRae coach Christopher Whalley said. We did a good job of that, but the one
time we didn't, they made us pay."
It felt like 48 hours had passed since Fort Lewis' last uncontested cross, but the aforementioned wind slowed Kyle
Wood's pass for what seemed like an eternity.
It floated up there for awhile," Barden said.
Wood played his service from the sideline in front of the Lees-McRae bench. As it danced in the wind, Barden
maneuvered around his defender on the far side of the goalie box.
I don't know if they were more concerned with me or where the ball was going to land, but I just remember cutting
around a guy and reaching back as far as I could, then hit the only open space in the goal.
I guess I placed it perfectly."
Barden leaned his 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame on his defenders and deposited a header into the side netting for the 1-0
Lees-McRae goalkeeper Sean Paradise was frozen without a chance.
Lees-McRae defenseman Dale Parker tried unsuccessfully to bicycle kick the ball off the goal line.
Pure excitement," said Wood, who was named the tournament's defensive MVP. I looked up at the clock and saw that
there was 10 minutes left - just hold on for 10 more minutes."
Jeff Jennings had a dangerous shot on goal in the second minute of the game.
Fabian Kling headed a ball off the post in the 17th minute of the game.
North Carolina's Lees-McRae, not the control-conscious FLC side, dominated possession in the middle of the game, but
primarily did so from the middle of the pitch.
They packed it in," Kennedy said. They made it harder for us to score."
That's the nature of a final," Wood said.
We knew coming in that was going to be some of the most difficult competition we were going to get this season,"
Those final 10 minutes, though, they belonged to FLC.
Barden's goal loosened the Skyhawks' legs - and lent credence to the fans' early game chants of WE'RE NO. 1! YOU'RE
Thomas Hoang, upon crisp construction, hit a strike three minutes after the goal that Paradise had to save off the
goal line with a backwards-leaping punch over the crossbar.
Byron Cephers, who started and played the full 45 in the second half, played a long cross to Barden six minutes after
the goal that was headed just high of the frame.
Cephers, while chasing a cross at full tilt, played a clever settle to himself with a header to his feet nine minutes
after the goal to free up a left-footed strike from 25 yards out that sailed high.
Barden, in the final minute, ran down a through ball from Euan Purcell, but his potential insurance goal was stolen
near the 18-yard-line by Paradise.
We're patient. That's the key to our game," Barden said. That's why we swing the ball around the back so much, tire
teams out - wait for them to make their move, then we kill 'em."
Lees-McRae's move came in the 60th minute.
Berin Boracic got a good look on goal from inside Wells' box, but the keeper was quick to charge Boracic's shot on
goal and was able to clear the ball to the 25. David Palmer collected it and quickly played a shot to the far post
while Wells backpedaled.
Wells dived left and got a glove on it, but he only changed the ball's pace as the shot hurried toward the side
Jamie Cunningham came in at the last second to clear the ball off the goal line.
I always have confidence in my back line to cover me," Wells said with a tongue-in-cheek air of bravado.
Jamie is always dependable."
Wells, who played his high school soccer at DHS, is one of many local Demon-to-'Hawk converts, living the dream of
playing college ball at the Fort. His moment of clarity came in 1999, when Peter Berglund was playing goalkeeper for
that year's national runner-up team, the Skyhawks' first of four finals appearances.
The energy, the emotions on the field, I knew then that I wanted to be a part of this," said Wells, whose definition
of this" changed Saturday night in Tampa.
This is totally different. I've experienced it first hand."
Kling, a sophomore from Augsburg, Germany, walked toward the Skyhawks' faithful fans after the game amid the
celebration and placed the championship trophy on the midfield hash mark, an offer of thanks. He bowed twice.
Fort Lewis' championship celebration in Tampa already has begun. The party in Durango, at least for this year's
rookie head coach and all the king's men, begins tonight.
We can't wait to get back to Durango to celebrate," Kennedy said.