stanhope boys

 Stanhope Elmore's Rigan Stewart looks to get the ball out of the backfield against Benjamin Russell on Tuesday.

There’s that common saying among coaches it’s hard to beat a team three times. No one can quite explain why. Maybe it’s because the teams know each other so well. Maybe it’s because one team gets complacent. Maybe it’s because the other team is that much more fired up.

Whatever the reason, Benjamin Russell’s boys soccer team proved it’s not just a saying. It’s true.

The Wildcats came out swinging against Stanhope Elmore, which had shut them down twice during the regular season. But when it mattered most in Tuesday’s Class 6A second-round game, it was Benjamin Russell that got the 3-2 victory.

“I think the weakness that we had the entire season is exactly what got us in the end — the amounts of time where we would lose focus,” Stanhope coach Johanna Angelo said. “Sometimes it would be five minutes here or there but we would usually pick it back up somewhere, and we just always managed to eke it out somehow. But my warning was when we get to the playoffs, you won’t have those times back. You’re going to get unlucky and you won’t be able to make up for it.” 

Right from the get go, the Wildcats wanted to set the tone against the No. 2-ranked team in 6A, and they did just that. After Benjamin Russell’s Campbell Woods made the game’s first save and was helped along by a stop from Dylan Riley on the rebound, the Wildcats went to work in their offensive zone. They gained a corner kick, which Landon Daniel sent in and Luke Harvey bucketed it.

Just 51 seconds later, Harvey was at it again, scoring to put Benjamin Russell ahead 2-0 before eight minutes were ticked off the clock.

“They beat us twice in the season so we knew we had to come out with high intensity,” Harvey said. “We knew we had to go up early and put them away early, and I feel like we came out strong, got the two early goals and that really set the intensity. They had some chances, almost came back and got us, but ultimately we were able to work hard and put them away.” 

Benjamin Russell held onto its 2-0 lead through the entire first half, thanks in large part to its defensive line. Woods needed just two saves in the opening half, but that number didn’t indicate the pressure the Mustangs put on BRHS. Riley and Brandon Welcher both had a pair of brilliant stops that could’ve easily been goals for Stanhope.

“I think we possessed 75 percent of the game, and they knew that,” Angelo said. “They bunkered in behind. They played a good nine people back there, so they knew what to expect out of us.” 

Stanhope did come back swinging in the second half, though. The Mustangs finally broke through with a goal from Cristo Rocha on a header just 10 minutes into the second half. That seemed to pick up the intensity for SEHS, but it wasn’t enough. Harvey answered in less than five minutes, pocketing his third goal of the night through heavy traffic.

Stanhope responded, as Rocha scored again with 12:03 remaining. That really seemed to light a fire under the Mustangs, as they started to pepper Woods with shots. Dylan Presciti had what looked like a sure-fire opportunity with under a minute to go but Woods jumped up and deflected the ball off his fingertips and over the net, icing the victory.

“Our goal was Final Four, so anything other than Final For is a disappointing season,” Angelo said. “Now, I’m proud of them and I love them and it was amazing to watch what they could do. It’s not that there weren’t highlights, and I’m not saying that it was a disaster. But is this what we wanted? Absolutely not.”