Every player on the pitch took a knee just before kickoff Thursday in Evanston to honor Ethan Nelson, the Star Valley goal keeper who was injured the night before during the Broncs-Braves senior night contest.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Ethan and his family. As a team, we are all hoping for a full recovery,” said Jackson coach Matt Hoelscher.
Jackson 4, Star Valley 0
Senior night against Star Valley was subdued after the injury, which halted the game at the half with Jackson up 4-0.
“It was just a beautiful day for soccer on senior night,” Hoelscher said. We were playing well. Got on the board early in the first minute of the game. Before the injury we were on pace to put together one of those complete 80-minute games that coaches preach about and are so elusive.”
Jackson 4, Evanston 0
If Jackson, a team that has lost just one game in 14 tries, has an Achilles heel it’s their defense. Relentless offensive pressure, ball possession style, and keeper Javi Huta have help disguise the fact that the Broncs are susceptible to outside speed.
Junior Evanston forward David Perez nearly exploited Jackson’s lack of foot speed on the back end on more than one occasion in Thursday’s match with the Red Devils. Huta had to make a big save early off the speedy striker to keep the game scoreless.
“We were vulnerable in the Kelly Walsh game as well. It’s been a pattern against us in other games,” Hoelscher said. “Teams put a lot of defenders in the box and look to counter with the then transition game and speed on the wings. Give Evanston credit; they were doing the exact same thing and giving themselves chances.”
But the Broncs’ big guns can be held down for only so long. Scoring leader Teddy Opler banged one in from out of nowhere to give Jackson the 1-0 lead.
Shifty Sahir Romero, who has practically created a position for himself at right midfield/defender/wing, had an exceptional game against the Devils. The junior was everywhere. From creating offense and opening up room for Teddy Opler and other strikers to work in the middle, to getting back on defense to track down and harass opponents going the other way with the ball, Romero does it all.
“He is normally a forward, but we needed him more on defense this year. He is all over the pitch. I’ve coached him forever. He’s really having a great season,” Hoelscher said.
And then there’s Daniel Huerta. The junior’s numbers might pale in comparison to Opler’s gaudy statistics but he’s been there all season as the perfect compliment to Teddy. With 38:18 to play in regulation, Huerta was again ‘right place, right time Danny,’ knocking one home after Opler’s original shot was denied by Evanston keeper Ryan Worley.
All that action came off a neo-corner kick Hoelscher is trying out. The ‘short corner’ is a play designed to bring the ball out of the corner spot dribbling, using two offensive players in tandem who move the ball toward the goal rather than booming a kick into the box and looking for a header somewhere.
“We are not the best out of the air, but we’re good at possession,” Hoelscher said.
James Dewell added the 3rd goal on a penalty kick from in close.
Leo Harland, enjoying some time up front with a 3-goal lead, scored off a beautiful individual effort to beat two Evanston players on a solo rush to the goal. That made the score 4-0 Jackson where it would stand.
Jackson will head to the post season with a 13-1, 10-1 record. Kelly Walsh’s 8-0 win over Rock Springs Saturday locks the Trojans in at the top seeding in the 4A West. That means Jackson will face the winless Green River Wolves to begin regional play on May 13 in Evanston.