DES MOINES — Newton’s boys soccer team had its depth tested from the opening minutes of its Class 2A state semifinal matchup with Council Bluffs Lewis Central on Friday.
The Cardinals lost senior forward Bryar Annee to a knee injury early and a goal in the 5th minute by the Titans was an extra gut punch as Newton played from behind the entire 80 minutes and lost 2-1 to the eventual state champions at James W. Cownie Sports Complex.
Lewis Central, which also won the title in 2019, downed Pella 3-1 in the 2A championship match on Saturday. The Titans (18-3) were ranked second but seeded third and Pella was ranked eighth but seeded first.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, spent the entire season ranked outside the top 10 and were seeded seventh for the state tournament.
They came into state with more losses than any other squad in the 2A field but upset No. 5 Dallas Center-Grimes in the substate final and downed No. 4 Bondurant-Farrar in the opening round of the state tournament to reach the semifinals. Both of those wins came in double overtime.
“We love being the underdog,” Newton senior Derek Beiner said. “The other seven teams here are probably better than us. I can even admit that. But I can guarantee you we have more heart than those other teams. I think we proved that. We just didn’t play well or have as much fire today.”
Lewis Central was simply the better team on Friday in the semifinals. It controlled the pace of the game and had a significant advantage in shots and corner kicks.
The Titans, who ended the season with nine straight wins, got a goal from Dylan Voudry five minutes into the match.
They also put a goal past Newton goalie Caleb Lawson and the Cardinal defense early in the second half to go up 2-0.
“A 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer,” Newton boys soccer coach Zach Jensen said. “A lot of teams can come back from that and have. I knew we were still in it but unfortunately we defended a little more than we wanted to today and we didn’t find some of our attacking pieces that we wanted to find.
“As the game got farther down, they got tired. We started attacking and getting our offense going, but it was a little too late.”
The second Titan goal was scored by Colton Costello and Lewis Central had a two-goal lead for almost 30 minutes.
“We didn’t follow the blind-sided runs. We didn’t check our shoulder,” Jensen said about both Lewis Central goals. “We have to have our heads on a swivel and mark up on those.”
The Cardinals found the back of the net with 8:26 left in the match. Caleb Mattes’ header off a free kick by Hunter Kennedy closed the gap to 2-1.
It was the fifth goal of the season by Mattes and the 31st assist by Kennedy. The 31 assists is a new school record and it ranked first in all of 2A.
Newton didn’t have a ton of great opportunities to score against Lewis Central’s stout defense. But Christian Lawson got hard contact with a shot attempt in the 73rd minute and forced the Titan goalie to make a diving save.
“They had a weirder defense than I expected,” Beiner said. “Most teams who play a back four hold a really strict line and their two outsides came up and the center back fills in. It’s actually a really smart way to play it. We watched a lot of film and still couldn’t crack it.”
The Cardinals took 17 shots and 12 shots on goal. Caleb Lawson finished with 14 saves.
There was some controversy in the final minutes. Jensen and his coaching staff pleaded to the officials about a pretty big no call in the box.
Lewis Central’s goalie used his hands to stop a Cardinal shot then dropped the ball to the grass before picking it up again. That is a violation, but it was not called by the head referee.
If it was called, the Cardinals would have had an indirect kick inside the box within 10 feet of the goal.
“The first thing he said to me after I questioned it was ‘you’re probably right.’ I don’t know what to say about that,” Jensen said. “He told me it wasn’t his call. And then told me it was his call. He went back and forth with me.”
Newton battled a few injuries during the game. Annee was the biggest one as he did not return with a knee injury. Kennedy also left the game twice but returned both times.
“We had to sub a lot more than we usually do,” Jensen said. “It’s tough. Bryar is a senior starter who just tore his ACL. When you see one of your brothers go down, it’s hard to recover mentally from that.”
It was one of the best seasons in school history for the Cardinals. They scored more goals and had more assists than any other team in program history. And won a match at the state tournament for the first time since 1996.
“I think a lot of teams doubted us. In the preseason, they do a poll to predict who is going to be in the final and that ended up being Bondurant-Farrar and DCG,” Jensen said. “We knocked both of them out. I’m proud of this team but still excited for the future. I’m going to miss the seniors. They have been through a lot with the missed COVID season. I wish they had a fourth season because it would have been huge.”
Notes: Beiner and Breyton Schwenker both were named to the all-tournament team. … Newton came into the state semifinals winners of four straight. Six of its seven losses this season were decided by one goal. … Lewis Central lost twice to instate schools and both were 1-0 defeats against 3A programs. … Both Newton and Lewis Central came into their matchup having scored 75 goals each.