It had all the makings of an epic affair. The top two teams in the conference. The winner would secure the inside edge to the Northwest Conference title. The loser? Well, its players would have spent 80 minutes in the driving rain and chilling wind only to fall behind in the standings.
And the game didn’t disappoint.
For 60 minutes, Squalicum’s boys’ soccer team looked like it was going to fall victim to the brilliance of a freshman goalkeeper from Burlington-Edison
But as the rain relented, the Storm’s skill took over, as it scored two goals in the final 16 minutes to top the Tigers in a Northwest Conference match on Thursday, April 23, at Kirkby Field.
“It was a huge game for us to win,” Squalicum sophomore forward Tyler Hughes said. “That’s probably the best 80 minutes we’ve played all season.”
The Storm used a combination of patience and technical passing ability to work the ball around the tightly-mowed Kirkby Field, avoiding the skips often seen on wet surfaces.
That willingness to pick spots to attack even when a scoreless draw — Squalicum’s only plague this season —appeared imminent resulted in Squalicum’s breakthrough.
In the 64th minute, the Storm earned a free kick 25 yards out. The initial attempt was blocked and kicked back out by the Tigers. But it fell to the feet of a Storm player, who passed it back to Ramon Beltran.
Beltran quickly put a ball over the top of the scrambling Tigers’ backline and right to the feet of the speedy Ben Peterson.
Peterson took no time in slotting it home to make it 1-0.
“I was pleased that the boys didn’t lose their patience,” coach Joe McAuliffe said. “That was something early on in the season, individuals would drive at them and stop running and moving off the ball. They didn’t do that today.”
With the Tigers forced to press the rest of the game, the Storm picked up another.
In the 73rd minute, Squalicum took its second corner of the day. Instead of lofting it into the box and hoping to get a head on it, the Storm passed it on the ground to Brandon Burbank, who cleverly laid it off to Hughes, who was in his first game back after a two-week absence.
Hughes pounded it past Burlington-Edison goalkeeper Julian Houston.
“It’s awesome. This team, they’re a great group of guys,” Hughes said. “To score a goal, it was great. But just to get back in it was awesome.”
The Storm was glad to have Hughes back immediately. In the first half, he was spectacular, finding open opportunities with crafty footwork on the right wing.
Unfortunately, the Tigers’ man in the net was the best player on the field for the first 40 minutes.
Houston was aggressive on through balls early and made five big saves in the first half.
His biggest came in the 36th minute, when a rocket volley by Zachary Wallace looked destined for the twine. But Houston came out of nowhere, leaping to make the fingertip save and keep the contest scoreless.
“Sometimes you come across that player having a brilliant, out of their head game like that keeper was having,” McAuliffe said. “You’re thinking like ‘OK, he could be the decider in this whole thing.’”
Squalicum, now at 7-0-2 in NWC play, will aim to win its final three games. If the Storm do so, the NWC title is going to the blue and silver. Squalicum’s first challenge is Meridian on Tuesday, April 28, on the road.
Squalicum 2, Burlington-Edison 0
Goal: Ben Peterson (Squalicum), assist: Ramon Beltran, time 64; Goal: Tyler Hughes (Sqyalicum), assist: Brandon Burbank, time 73. Goalies (saves) — Burlington-Edison: Julian Houston (9); Squalicum: Cole Herdman (1). Shots on goal — Squalicum 11, Burlington-Edison 1.