Between the crisp air and the play on the field, the Newton boys soccer team's season opener Tuesday night might as well have been a football game.
Fighting through some physical play, the Cardinals notched two first-half goals and held off 2012 state runner-up Norwalk to kick off their season with a 2-1 victory in front of the home crowd at H.A. Lynn Field.
"It was pretty awesome. This is probably the best win I've ever been a part of," said Newton senior Austin Shores, who scored the game-clinching goal. "We weren't focused going into the second half and we should have been, but we'll learn that with time. It's just the first game."
It was basically all Cardinals from the opening whistle as they controlled the ball easily. Senior Tyler Hansen went wide right and wide left of the goal on back-to-back possessions about seven minutes in, but connected with a line drive in the middle of the field at the 29:34 mark to put Newton up 1-0 early.
"We wanted to come out and set that tone right away, and we definitely did," Newton coach Tim Heger said. "We were ready to play and ready to go."
Although Norwalk started to put some offense together after the goal, the Cardinal defense tightened up and senior goalkeeper James Leonard made multiple one-on-one saves to preserve the shutout. The Cards eventually regained control of the ball and managed back-to-back corner kicks with only about one minute remaining.
Both kicks came up empty, but the chain of events after them all but sealed the win for Newton. Senior Jesse Bates headed the rebound backwards and off a Norwalk defender, and Shores fought off a defender to deposit the ball in the goal with just 18 seconds left in the half.
"He stayed on my back so I just turned and volleyed it and got it in the corner," Shores said. "But that really didn't carry any momentum into the second half like it should have. It only carried 18 seconds to the end of the first half."
Indeed, Norwalk controlled the ball for a while at the beginning of the second half, but the Cardinal defense remained stout. When the Warriors were able to breach the back line, Leonard was there to send them back.
"James had a great night in goal," Heger said. "He came out when he needed to and played very, very well. We expect him to do that and he expects it of himself."
Yellow cards began to emerge around the 20-minute mark, as Norwalk earned the first one and the Cardinals followed up with one of their own a few minutes later. Play became continually chippy and the Warriors received two more yellows before all was said and done.
Norwalk did eventually get on the board with 14:57 to go when senior Austin Coughennower was able to slip past Cardinal defenders and sneak a shot under a diving Leonard.
“They had all the perfect touches on it and got through our defense, and that’ll happen,” Heger said of the goal. “But we didn’t give up and continued to fight until the very end. It was a very typical hard-fought Norwalk-Newton game.”
In the preseason, Heger expressed his hopes that the defense would be the team’s strongpoint, and it certainly was in the closing moments of the game.
Norwalk only sniffed the goal a few times as the Cardinals went into clock control mode to burn the remaining minutes off the clock. The final buzzer touched off a loud celebration from the cold, dedicated fans in attendance.
The Cards earned some revenge for a 3-0 loss to Norwalk last year, but also earned a 1-0 record overall and in the Little Hawkeye Conference for an early-season boost.
Up next is a road test at Pella Christian on Thursday, but it’s safe to say the team’s big season-opener won’t extend much farther than that.
“We’re just looking to play the next game,” Bates said. “This is a great win, but we’re not going to get too high up on the horse.”
“This was a good physical game and a great way to start the season,” senior Andrew Clements added. “We started strong, and now we just need to keep it up and finish it.”