Van Horn soccer succumbs to Fort Zumwalt South's late first-half barrage in Class 3 state semifinal

Greg Uptain
Special to The Examiner

FENTON, Mo. – Things couldn't have started any better for the Van Horn boys soccer team Friday afternoon. 

Less than five minutes into their Missouri Class 3 semifinal game against defending state champion Fort Zumwalt South, the Falcons scored first on a goal by senior forward Kobe Otano to grab the early lead. 

Unfortunately, by the time the first half was over, the script had completely flipped and Van Horn later exited the World Wide Technology Soccer Park pitch with a 4-1 loss. 

“I was pretty excited. It felt great to score against Fort Zumwalt South with them being the big team coming to state,” Otano said. “Unfortunately, things happened to where we end up conceding four goals.” 

Van Horn (17-8-1) had an eight-game winning streak snapped and will play for third place for the second time in four seasons after also doing so in 2018 following a three-goal loss to Fort Zumwalt South in the semifinals. The Falcons, who tied for third in 2018, will take on Glendale (25-4) in the Class 3 third-place game at noon Saturday. 

“Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned today,” Van Horn coach Jesus Rodriguez said. “But, I'm proud of our guys because all season long I know how good we are and we didn't get credit for that, but here we are fighting for a state title. Now, I told the guys we're not leaving here without a win. So, tomorrow we're gonna give it hell and see what we get.” 

Fort Zumwalt South (24-3) has won 14 straight games and will play in its third state final in four years against Ladue Horton Watkins (23-6-1) in an all-St. Louis final at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Bulldogs won Class 3 titles in 2018 and 2020. 

“The last thing you want to do is get behind and get behind that early,” Zumwalt South coach Jim Layne said. “But with this group, they’re just so experienced. They’ve played from behind before. We knew going into it that we were going to get many chances. It was just making sure we put one away. We went on fire there. We got it right back and kept going at them.” 

The Falcons jumped on top with a goal just 4 minutes, 54 seconds in when Otano got past the Bulldogs defense, broke in on goal, made a move around onrushing goalkeeper Luke Dillon and tapped a left-footer into the open net for the 1-0 lead. 

“He's a great player and I am hopeful for him to go play collegiate next year,” Rodriguez said of Otano. “He's very dominant. He had three guys on him and he can still keep possession of the ball and create chances for us.” 

But the lead lasted less than nine minutes due to an onslaught of Zumwalt South goals. 

Aiden Dieteker netted the equalizer in the 14th minute, scoring from four yards out on a partial break-in to tie the game at 1. 

Just more than eight minutes later, Van Horn was whistled for a foul inside the box and Bulldogs leading scorer Karson Gibbs converted the penalty kick for his 27th goal of the season and a 2-1 lead. 

Five minutes after that goal, Zumwalt South made it a two-goal lead when Brendan Owens scored on a header from five yards out that chased Van Horn goalkeeper Levi Carter out of the game. 

“He's young and he was probably jittery. He gave up two goals he normally does not,” Rodriguez said of Carter. “I did that throughout the season. What he was doing there, I would say after a third of the season he stopped doing it. This game, I think it was just the stage we were at that kind of hurt him.” 

With 2:38 left in the first half, the Bulldogs greeted backup goalie Jeferson Santamaria with a goal by Ryan Harvatin after Owens had hit the crossbar seconds earlier and the Falcons trailed 4-1 at the intermission. 

“It was our best 20 minutes (of a half),” Layne said. “When you look at the game as a whole, we’ve played some better halves before, even offensively. But that 20 minutes was pretty special.” 

After being outshot 8-2 in the first half, Van Horn rebounded to outshoot Fort Zumwalt South 4-2 in the final 40 minutes, but couldn't find the back of net. 

“I thought we had the whole second half, but we ended up losing it in the first half,” Rodriguez said. “We were dominating the game until the first two goals, but we gave motivation to Fort Zumwalt South and they came at us and we didn't have an answer. 

“I wish it was like football and you could call a timeout, so we could make adjustments. But it’s unfortunate we couldn't make those adjustments until the second half.” 

The Falcons' focus now shifts to trying to end the weekend – and the season – with a victory on Saturday. 

“We can't leave St. Louis with two L’s,” Otano said. “We're gonna come out here and give it our all. Even if it's third place, third place is better than fourth.”