NORWALK —The Newton girls soccer team has played plenty of down-to-the-wire games this season, and on Tuesday, it ran into the wrong team to take down to the wire.
Inspired by a grieving teammate and the sophomore goalkeeper that took her place, the Warriors shut down the Class 2A No. 11 Cardinals' potent offense through regulation and two overtimes before winning 2-1 in the decisive penalty kicks. Newton finished the regular season with an overall record of 12-3 and a 4-2 mark in the Little Hawkeye Conference.
"We had a few people who didn't feel well, so that pretty much set the wheels in motion for a shuffle and trying to find people," Newton coach Sackda Viravong said. "I've recently told the girls we need to take teams out early, because sometimes we just can't finish."
The game's opening minutes were a good indication of how the rest of the game would go, as neither team managed much of a push offensively. Newton was able to get a few early corner kicks, but nothing materialized from them and Norwalk was usually able to clear the ball back out.
Around the 20-minute mark, the Cardinals finally started getting some offense together. However, those chances also came up empty after a solid shot on goal sailed over the crossbar and center pass just missed an open target in front of the net. Other than that stretch, the Warriors largely kept Newton and check and didn't allow any sort of slow-developing plays.
"Ther team played a 4-4-2, which is a different format from what we've seen," Viravong said. "There were just too many midfielders, so we had to drop one player out. Plus we haven't been playing well since that loss to Pella."
The Warriors continued their stranglehold in the second half, and even managed a few scoring opportunities of their own that were stopped by Newton junior goalkeeper Emily Forsyth. It was until the 74-minute mark that the Cardinals really began to attack the net, indicated by their strongest scoring chance of the game with a shot on goal by Taylor Moon. However, the game soon went into its first overtime.
Another solid chance presented itself when Norwalk keeper Madison Gremler misplayed a ball with 3:30 to go in the first overtime, but the Warriors were able to clear before Newton could attack the empty net. On the other side of the field, Norwalk managed some offense of its own, but that too was denied.
After Norwalk nearly scored on a corner kick early in the second overtime, the Cardinals put together what looked to be the game-winning possession. A perfect center pass found its target right in front of the net with Gremler out of position, but the ensuing shot on goal sailed high and right, sending the game into penalty kicks.
"In the PK, even the best teams in the World Cup can lose," Viravong said with a laugh. "You might as well just toss a coin and call it heads or tails."
Newton senior Kaylie Rhoads got PKs started with a goal on the first shot, but Norwalk would tie it up on its second shot from junior Madison Harrington. On its third attempt from senior Hali Van Velzen, Norwalk took a 2-1 PK lead, and Newton's next three shots were either over the net or saved by Gremler to seal the victory for the Warriors.
The Cardinals will have some time to shake off the loss, but the stakes become much higher in their next game. That game will be against the winner of Iowa Falls-Alden and Grinnell, and will take place at H.A. Lynn Field next Tuesday.
"We had a lot of opportunities tonight, but we didn't finish or follow up," Viravong said. "We finished last year 9-9 so we've been better, but there is no room for error left. We need to do something to get back on track."