Golden goal is ticket to State
CEC will make third-straight trip south
October 20, 2023
It was close, but the Lumberjacks boys soccer team is headed to State again after scoring a golden goal 2 minutes and 6 seconds into overtime.
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton team scored first and last in the Section 7AA championship game against Grand Rapids Tuesday night, in the Lumberjacks' first and last game this season on the new turf at Members Cooperative Credit Union Stadium.
The stands were packed with fans - buoyed by the girls 7AA win in the first-ever game at the upgraded field - and the air was crisp, carrying the noise from the new video scoreboard to homes miles away.
Cloquet's defense played a disciplined game throughout, and the offense tested Grand Rapids goalkeeper Evan Linnell repeatedly, but couldn't get past him. It took a rocket from defender Joe Bailey to break through in the 34th minute, a shot Bailey took from around the 30-yard line of the dual-purpose football field.
"Right when I kicked it I knew it was going in," Bailey said. It was the first "real goal" of his high school career - other than penalties - and his first shot of the season.
The senior made off down the field, to chest-bump with Cloquet senior goalkeeper Walker Marquardt. "I planned that," Bailey said.
The Thunderhawks answered three minutes later, scoring on a header across Marquardt on the corner of the 6-yard box in the 37th minute. It was the first goal conceded by CEC in its last eight games.
Halftime found the two teams tied 1-1.
The second half featured three yellow cards - all in the last several minutes of play - two against Cloquet players and one against Grand Rapids. It also featured some stellar saves by both goalkeepers. That put the section championship game into sudden-death overtime.
Cloquet midfielder Noah Hansen scored the golden goal, sniping the ball between the goalkeeper's legs just over two minutes into overtime, assisted by senior Anders Gunelson. The junior was immediately mobbed by his teammates. There were no words to describe it, Hansen told a Pine Knot reporter after the game.
"It was one of those games where, looking at the stat sheets, we had more and better chances, but it only takes one to go in," said head coach John Sundstrom, admitting he was a little worried about Rapids sneaking in another goal. "But the boys were disciplined defensively and really kept the ball out of the net until Noah got his chance."
The head coach highlighted the defense, which was "under attack for much of the game" but made some big plays.
Marquardt said he and his back line have a lot of confidence in each other's abilities, and trust.
"All five of us back there, everything just clicks together, the chemistry is there," said the senior goalkeeper. "We're all on the same page."
Tuesday's win also showed the depth of the Lumberjacks team, which includes 10 seniors, nine juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen.
Although CEC star forward Elijah Aultman didn't score Tuesday, he definitely played a role in the win, Sundquist said. Teams focus on the high-scoring senior, which allows others to shine.
"[Elijah's] gotten so much better at his distribution, so he's opening up a lot of lanes for a lot of those other people," Sundquist said.
Aultman said the team is ready to face anyone at the state tournament, which could begin as soon as Tuesday with seedings and sites determined this wek. He praised the coaches and his teammates for being disciplined.
"We've just been sticking to our game plan and working hard on projects every day," said the Cloquet senior, who has scored just under a quarter of the team's goals this year.
The Lumberjacks' other frequent scorer, forward Hudson Snesrud, had some good shots on goal. He wasn't the only one thwarted by the Grand Rapids goalkeeper. CEC had 14 shots to the Thunderhawks' seven.
Next week, the Lumberjacks (16-2) will make their third consecutive trip to State, in their third year with Sundquist at the helm, assisted by Lenny Conklin.
"The trick is getting the right group of kids and the right talent, and all of a sudden your coaching looks really good," Sundquist said.