Before the season started, Van Horn boys soccer coach Jesus Rodriguez said he dreamed of having a home state quarterfinal game with a chance to advance to the state final four.
That dream was realized Tuesday.
His Falcons withstood a late run from Kearney in the second half and held on for a 3-2 Class 3 sectional playoff win Tuesday at Kearney High School.
Van Horn (24-2) will host a quarterfinal game Saturday against Jefferson City Helias Catholic, which defeated Harrisonville 4-3 in another sectional contest.
“I remember (saying) that,” Rodriguez said of wanting to host a state quarterfinal. “I want to have our bleachers packed and see if we can make it to the final four. That was definitely one of the things I was looking for this season.”
Both teams struggled to get shots off through the first 13 minutes, but the Falcons finally broke through in the 14th minute. Just seconds after sophomore forward Edison Rios had a point-blank shot knocked away by Kearney goalkeeper Parker Snider, Raynalso Jean-Pierre collected clear attempt and sent a short cross to junior midfielder Julio Rios, who drilled a 25-yard shot inside the left post for the early lead.
“Coach tells me not to hit the ball with that much power because sometimes it goes over,” Julio Rios said of his goal. “This time I didn’t hit it with that much power and got it inside the post.”
With just 18 seconds left in the first half, senior midfielder Joxel Figueroa received a pass from Edison Rios and drilled a left-footed shot inside the top left corner of the goal to put his team up 2-0 going into halftime.
Rain earlier in the day affected the field conditions. There were instances in the first half and early in the second half when the Falcons would send through balls inside the Bulldogs’ 18-yard box, and a Van Horn player would slip while making a run toward the goal.
The Falcons had great chances to finish shots throughout, but had some opportunities go wide of the goal or get knocked away on spectacular saves from Snider.
“We’re going to go back home and work on finishing,” Rodriguez said. “This should have been done early. Raynalso had a wide-open shot that he missed. Edison didn’t have the keeper (in goal) on a breakaway attempt and he missed it. That’s three or four goals that we could have had and it wouldn’t have been a close game.
“The field was fast and that definitely benefits a fast player. We still have to give it to our guys who possess and find gaps. It was just one of those games where our forward couldn’t find the back of the net. If he does, it’s a 5-2 game and it doesn’t matter.”
The missed opportunities from the Falcons allowed Kearney to climb back into the game. While the Van Horn defense only had two players near the penalty box to defend, Kearney junior Kian Hayes sent a through ball to an open Gaven Frizzell, who punched one inside the far post from the right wing to narrow the gap to 2-1 in the 50th minute.
Midway through the first half, junior midfielder Angel DeAvila received a short cross from Jean-Pierre and blasted a 30-yard shot just under the crossbar to push the lead to 3-1.
“It was an intense moment,” DeAvila said. “We were full of adrenaline as always in a state game. I was screaming for the ball and Ray gives it to me. And I just shot it and hoped it went in.”
Kearney didn’t go away, however. In the 57th minute, Frizzell knocked in a close-range header off a corner kick to make it 3-2. Van Horn shifted its focus to defense the rest of the way. It went to a bunker defense for the final 5 minutes and the Falcons were able to milk the clock and advance to the quarterfinals.
“They found their players on the outside and built their attack,” DeAvila said.
Added Julio Rios: “They came out more aggressive (in the second half).”
Now, the Falcons turn their attention to the Crusaders (19-7).
“We don’t know a lot about them,” Rodriguez said of Helias. “They are fast and apply pressure. It’s going to be an interesting game.”