In its previous victory, the Newton boys soccer team struggled offensively, but still managed a victory.
On Thursday night, however, it wasn’t as lucky.
After giving up an early goal on a free kick, the Class 2A No. 10 Cardinals suffered just their second shutout of the season, falling 1-0 to Southeast Polk on Senior Night at H.A. Lynn Field.
“We came out flat in the first 10 minutes and it just killed us,” Newton coach Tim Heger said. “When we come out flat like that, that’s what will happen. They know it now, so we’ll just have to see if it changes.”
The Rams certainly left their mark on the game’s opening minutes, almost exclusively keeping the ball on Newton’s side of the field. Senior Jordan Phillips then scored the game’s only goal on a free kick from about 15 yards out to put the Cards (7-2, 4-1 Little Hawkeye Conference) in a hole for the rest of the game.
Newton’s defense played its usual tough game, however, as other Southeast Polk chances fell short. Senior goalkeeper James Leonard made multiple saves in the early going, and fellow senior Jesse Bates cleared a ball just inches from the goal line when Leonard left the net to make another save. Bates was moved to the backfield for the game to make up for the absence of senior Andrew Clements due to track.
“Not having Clements back there always hurts us because we have to move Bates back there and since he’s our control guy in the middle, we lose some of that offensive firepower,” Heger said. “Aside from that, we played a pretty good game defensively.”
The Cardinals managed some good possessions near the midway point of the first half, but never managed any solid scoring opportunities. When the Rams began to regain momentum with about 10 minutes to go in the half, things were starting to look bleak for Newton.
The Cards recovered somewhat early in the second half, however, as they recorded a few shots on goal and some longer possessions. A few free kicks presented themselves, but no goals became of them. Play turned a little chippy around the midway point of the second half, but both teams appeared to settle down some as the Cardinals began to rely on deep passes to counter Southeast Polk clearing the ball.
“Offensively, we need to put away out chances. That’s killing us right now,” Heger said. “We got to the point where that was our only option, so that was all we had to work with.”
Although it wasn’t the best way to see off the 12 seniors on the roster this season, Thursday did offer a chance to look at the program’s improvement under the direction of this year’s seniors. Many of them have been varsity starters for multiple seasons, and after some roller coaster moments early in their careers, the hard work of the past four years has begun to show itself this season.
“We’ve had that core of Bates, Clements, (Austin) Shores and (Tyler) Hansen for years on varsity, and losing that core is going to hurt,” Heger said. “They’ve gone through a lot in their years of playing, from good seasons to bad seasons, and they’re finally having a really good season their senior year. It’s nice to finally see that for them.”
The Cardinals won’t return to H.A. Lynn Field until the playoffs begin, but they will stay busy in the meantime. They will travel to Marshalltown on Monday in a rescheduled game from earlier in the season before heading to Pella on Thursday for the de facto Little Hawkeye Conference championship game.
While losses are hardly ever good, Heger did say close games and a reality check here and there can’t hurt after a season like the one the Cards are enjoying.
“We had definitely been on a roll for a while there, and this brings us back to reality a little bit,” Heger said. “If we don’t play, we can’t expect a win to be handed to us. We have to earn it.”