Grain Valley senior midfielder Jack Knust hadn’t had much luck with penalty kicks coming into Wednesday’s Class 3 District 14 championship game against Kansas City East.
He missed his last two, and when Grain Valley had its first opportunity to make one against the Bears, head coach Tyler Nichol elected to go with freshman midfielder Austin Schmidt in that situation. It backfired at first as East goalkeeper Adem Adem made a diving stop.
However, the officials ruled that Adem came off his line too early, so the Eagles got another crack at it. This time, Knust got the opportunity. It paid off as he buried the PK inside the left post with 12:09 left in the first half to tie it 1-1. He later scored again on another penalty kick, which ended up being the game winner in a 2-1 victory over the Bears at Raytown South High School.
The win marked Grain Valley’s third district title in the last five years.
“Jack wanted to take it,” Grain Valley coach Tyler Nichol said. “We said if he takes charge, ‘OK.’ He’s a senior captain. And he buried it. After he made the first one, he earned the right to take the second.”
Grain Valley will play the winner of today’s District 13 championship game between Grandview and Belton next Tuesday in the sectional round.
“My former assistant Jared Smith is the head coach (at Belton),” Nichol said. “It would be fun to play against him.”
East opened the scoring in the 21st minute when Usseni Shabani scored off an assist from Elias Kaboyi. Knust tied it six minutes later.
The 1-1 deadlock held until halftime, and that was a huge boost for the Eagles, especially since the wind – which was blowing as fast as 25 mph – was at East’s back for the first 40 minutes.
In the second half, Grain Valley was afforded the luxury of having the wind assist them.
“Last week at Smithville, we had a bitter cold one, so were prepared for this,” Nichol said of the frigid and windy weather. “They kept peppering the ball to our goalie and we were in survival mode. It was huge not to give up another goal in the first half. That’s what won the game.”
East outshot the Eagles (14-4-1) 12-2 in the first half, but Grain Valley held a 5-0 edge in the second half.
Grain Valley had a few shots go just wide of the goal but got a golden opportunity when Knust was fouled just inside the 18-yard box. He punched the penalty kick inside the right post to put his team up 2-1 with 16:23 remaining.
“I just thought I was going to bury it. I am glad I got the opportunity,” Knust said.
Grain Valley’s defense came up big as it didn’t allow East to get a clean shot off. The Bears did get the ball deep in Eagle territory in the 78th minute, but the ball got away and went over the end line, giving Grain Valley a goal kick.
“I just had to rely on my team to have my back,” Grain Valley senior goalkeeper Bryant Madden said. “Our defense locked it down tonight. We did a great job of locking down their most dangerous players. It was a beautiful game of soccer when it all came together.”
The Eagles made it to the state final four in 2015 and 2016 and have a chance to make it a third time with just two more wins. Not only that, but Knust has a chance to do something special since he has at least one more game to play.
“He scored his 29th and 30th goal of the year, so he’s one away from Alex Thiessen’s (school) record (for most goals in a season),” Nichol said, “and he’s a midfielder.
“His work rate is unlike any player I have ever seen. The change of pace when he has the ball to create shots for himself is amazing. He’s a great kid. He’s the heart and soul of our team. Our guys feed off him.”