Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Landon Wirt's name.
Bishop Carroll has never won a soccer state championship. Though it took two overtime periods and a heroic goal to get there, the Eagles will have their opportunity Saturday.
Cesar Ibarra Sota took advantage of some free space to send the ball in from 40 yards out and senior Skyler Stuckey headed it in for the game-winning goal five minutes into the second overtime period to give Carroll a 2-1 win over St. Thomas Aquinas on Friday night in the state semifinals.
“We were looking for that long ball,” Stuckey said. “I told him to keep playing that ball, and that free kick I had space on the backside. I saw the ball floating over his head, and I snuck behind the defenders and they didn’t see me.”
Stuckey had previously knocked a shot off the crossbar from 25 yards out when his team led 1-0 with 17 minutes left in regulation. And he missed on a similar header opportunity in the first overtime.
“I had so many shots the first half and it wasn’t going my way,” he said. “I just knew I was going to put one in. I just had a feeling.”
Teammate Corbyn Howard headed in a corner kick with 23:35 left in the second half to finally end a scoreless tie. St. Thomas Aquinas responded with 9 minutes left on a rebound goal from Landon Wirt that sent the game into overtime.
The Saints got the first shot on goal in the first 10-minute overtime period but quickly lost momentum when midfielder Esteban Arias picked up his second yellow card and left St. Thomas Aquinas with a man down the rest of the game.
Carroll couldn’t convert in the first overtime period, but Stuckey’s goal halfway through the second ended the game and will send the Eagles (18-1-1) to the 5A state title game Saturday at noon at Maize High School. Undefeated Blue Valley Southwest from Overland Park awaits them after a 2-0 victory over Kapaun.
Carroll has played in the third-place game each of the past three seasons, prompting a friend to label Skaggs the Marty Schottenheimer of Kansas high school soccer. But while the former Chiefs head coach holds the record for most NFL wins without reaching the Super Bowl, Skaggs will now get to add a state championship appearance to his resume.
“It’s the two best teams in the state right now, and that’s what you want,” he said. “We can beat you with a lot of different players, and our defense is rock solid.”
Experience will favor Carroll with eight starting seniors – five of whom have started since their freshman year. Carroll (18-1-1) has only lost to Dodge City, which will play in the 6A third place game Saturday in Topeka.
Blue Valley Southwest (19-0-1) remained undefeated after Friday’s 2-0 state semifinals win over Kapaun. The Timberwolves return to the state championship game after losing in the finals a year ago.
“That’s been on our hearts for a year now,” junior Aidan Bates said. “So the whole season we’ve been working to get here. Now we’re here, and we’re going to make it happen.”
Bates took the lead with an early first-half goal and assisted on another that sealed the win over Kapaun. Junior Andrew Lawrence fed Bates on a run that ended with a chip over Kapaun goalkeeper Joseph Chessmore for a 1-0 lead.
Chessmore had made two diving saves in the game’s first 12 minutes, but Southwest persisted by dominating time of possession early thanks to a conservative approach from Kapaun.
“We knew they had really fast players up top and so we wanted to eliminate that as much as possible,” Kapaun coach Anthony Cantele said. “The drawback with that was we gave them more opportunities for set pieces and corners and throw-ins. And when you do that with a team that’s that good we were lucky to only give up one then.”
Kapaun attacked more in the second half but still saw few scoring chances materialize. Senior Cody Benedict missed just over the crossbar on a free kick 20 minutes into the second half that proved to be the Crusaders’ best scoring opportunity. Junior forward Alexander Zachgo failed to get a shot on goal.
“In a game like that the danger, especially when they had the big kid up top, is if you don’t get a goal at some point you’re a free kick away from them taking the lead,” Southwest coach Jason Pendleton said. “So getting that goal in the first half was huge.”
While Kapaun pushed forward as the clock became a factor in the second half, the game opened up more for Southwest. Bates clinched the win with a pass to senior Matthew Weaver, who beat Chessmore to the far post with under two minutes to play.
The win completed a long journey for Southwest to return to the state finals after last year’s loss to St. James Academy in Emporia.
Kapaun (15-4-1) will have to settle for a third-place game at noon against St. Thomas Aquinas (13-5-2).