CEC stymied at State
October 27, 2023
The Lumberjacks boys soccer season ended in a shootout Wednesday, in a Class AA quarterfinal game against St. Cloud Tech High School that remained tied 1-1 through two overtime periods and ended 2-1 as the Tigers missed only one penalty shot to win.
It was a hard-fought game and one Cloquet-Esko-Carlton led for 75 minutes, 1-0, after senior Joe Bailey scored on a penalty kick in the 24th minute. The goalkeeper dove left and Bailey went right to score, after refs called a handball on a St. Cloud Tech defender in the box.
CEC dominated the first half, with five shots on goal versus zero by the Tigers. But the Tigers came out in the second half playing a more disciplined game and it showed: St. Cloud had eight shots on goal to three by Cloquet in the half. Still, CEC head coach John Sundquist said he thought his team was the stronger one.
"They were playing long, we would just clean it up and were handling it just fine," Sundquist said. "That one time we were just a little bit flat."
The equalizer came on a shot by St. Cloud senior Caleb Campina, who fired a shot that bounced along the ground to the right of CEC goalkeeper Walker Marquardt and into the left corner of the net.
Campina sped past the defenders to hit the ball.
"He still had to make the shot to beat one of the best keepers in the state," Sundquist said.
Neither team scored in the remaining five minutes and regulation ended with a 1-1 tie, sending the game into two sudden-death overtime periods of 10 minutes each. Unlike the Section 7AA championship game - which CEC won 2-1 in the second minute of OT - there would be no golden goal for the Lumberjacks at State.
The two periods flew by. Neither team had a single shot on goal in the first session, which ended with two Lumberjacks players down on the field with leg cramps on a night with temperatures in the 50s.
The Tigers threatened in the second overtime session, but Marquardt saved a Musamil Hashi header off a corner kick to keep the game tied 1-1.
Then it was shootout time. Each team starts with five penalty kicks, and the one with the most points wins.
CEC's Marquardt and St. Cloud Tech goalkeeper Landon Austin each turned away the first attempt with Marquardt denying Campina and Austin stopping a shot by Cloquet senior Elijah Aultman.
Both teams scored on the second attempt: senior Anders Gunelson for the Lumberjacks, and senior Abdirahman Mohamed for St. Cloud.
In the third round of penalty kicks, Cloquet senior Joe Bailey's shot hit the post hard for a miss, while Teagan Gazdzik scored against Marquardt with a hard kick to the right side of the goal.
Marquardt took the fourth kick for the Lumberjacks and scored with a shot to the top right, but the Tigers Omar Ali also scored, shooting the ball over Marquardt.
That made it 3-2 for the Tigers, with one more chance for the Lumberjacks to even the score, provided the St. Cloud player missed. CEC never got that chance. Tigers junior Will Pearson kicked it low to the left corner and scored.
St. Cloud Tech won the game-deciding shootout by a 4-2 advantage.
"We were in this game. I thought we had the majority of the good chances but sometimes the ball bounces your way and sometimes it doesn't, and tonight it didn't," Sundquist said.
Both teams boasted plenty of experience, with 13 seniors rostered for the Tigers and 10 for the Lumberjacks. CEC came into the game on a 15-game win streak, ranked No. 3 in Class AA while St. Cloud was ranked No. 4. It was redemption for St. Cloud Tech, which fell 3-1 to CEC in the quarterfinals last year.
"I'm just devastated for the seniors, we really thought it was our year," Sundquist said after the game. "Credit to St. Cloud Tech. They battled all the way to the end and got that goal right before the end of regulation. That's a bummer."
After the game, Marquardt said he felt like he let the team down, especially with the tie-breaking goal.
"I got a hand on it. It should never have gone in with five minutes left in the game," the senior said, adding that he also got a piece of one of the penalty shots. "It's a hard reality when you get your hand on two different shots and you can't keep it out of the net."
His teammates would differ.
"We gave everything we had," Aultman said.
The senior forward was a target this year, particularly in the playoffs. Aultman didn't score Wednesday, but he drew more than his share of defenders as well as a yellow card. The native of Sierra Leone, who burst onto the Cloquet soccer scene as a freshman with his older brother Jordan, is one of the top players in the Northland.
He's optimistic for next year, even though he won't be here.
"This team can be good again next year. I trust in them," Aultman said. "I'm gonna miss them."
Wednesday marked the Lumberjacks' third consecutive trip to State, in Sundquist's third year as head coach. Last year they finished in third place, the Lumberjacks' best boys soccer finish ever. Sundquist aims to keep building the program.
St. Cloud Tech will play Hill Murray Wednesday in a state semifinal game.