Kadena boys keep title on Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Class AA boys soccer title remained on Okinawa. And once again, Yokota suffered 11th-hour heartbreak.
Senior striker Scott Knutson chipped in a shot from the right side in the 80th minute to lift Kadena past Yokota 2-1 Friday in the championship game of the Class AA Far East High School Boys Soccer Tournament at Mike Petty Stadium.
“I can’t describe it. It’s a dream come true,” Knutson said. “I’ve wanted to do this since I started playing soccer as a kid. It’s unexplainable.”
Kadena collected its second Class AA championship and first since 1999. The Panthers fell to archrival Kubasaki in the 2001 championship game.
Okinawa teams have won all four Class AA titles since the tournament’s inception in 1998.
Meanwhile, Yokota was beaten in the title match’s waning moments for the second straight year. Last spring, the Panthers fell 2-1 to Kubasaki after a handball call in the area led to a penalty kick by Jared Huber.
“Coming this far and coming up short is always painful,” Yokota coach Tim Pujol said. “The guys are hurting right now. But they played a nice tournament. They fought right up to the end.”
They came out swinging in the game’s first 10 minutes, too. Jay Irwin sent a free kick to his brother, Matt, who slipped in behind the Kadena defense and scored to give Yokota the early edge.
“That fired us up,” Knutson said. “It made us want to play harder and beat them even more.”
So Kadena stepped it up defensively, Knutson added: “The defense was solid. They didn’t let anything by them. And we began winning a lot of those 50-50 airballs.
“We had players marked who we knew were good ballhandlers and who could score. We had to do everything twice as well as they did. And we did.”
Yokota appeared to retreat at that point.
“Our midfielders dropped too far back on the defensive side,” Pujol said. “Then, Kadena began winning balls and creating chances for themselves.”
The first big chance came in the 20th minute. Jay Irwin cleared out an overhead toss by Kadena’s Cody Bradshaw with a header, but it ricocheted right to Zach Zendejas, who knocked a shot past Yokota goalkeeper Ben Anderson.
From there, it went back and forth, as both sides flirted with scoring opportunities.
With two minutes left, Kadena coach Sue Fitzpatrick laid it on the line to Knutson. “I told him we had to have one,” she said.
Running down a ball sent to the right corner, Knutson started toward the goal, with Anderson and Yokota defenseman Jake Ward facing up to him. Knutson played the ball off his left foot, then on the inside of his right, chipping it on the ground between Anderson and the near post.
The ensuing celebration was so animated that Knutson received a yellow-card caution. But Kadena wasn’t out of the woods, having to fight off a couple of free-kick chances by Yokota in stoppage time until the final whistle blew.
“Awesome!” Fitzpatrick said. “No one individual could have done it. They filled their roles, they fulfilled their dreams. Mission accomplished.”