Both teams came out of Tuesday’s Region 10 boys soccer opener between Tooele and Stansbury with plenty of optimism.
Stansbury opened its pursuit of its fourth consecutive region title with a 2-0 win over the rival Buffaloes at home, getting second-half goals from senior Bradley King and junior Steven Martinez to improve to 2-1-2 overall.
“Our guys have to make sure they’re not getting complacent and thinking [the region title] is theirs every year,” Stallions coach Jacob Jones said. “Any slip-up in one game and we’re in a dogfight for it, so every game’s going to be a big game.”
On the other side, Tooele (0-5, 0-1 Region 10) left feeling good about its game, having kept the Stallions’ attack at bay for most of the game, minus a couple missteps that found their way into the back of the net.
“[Stansbury] went into halftime worried — you could see it in their body language,” Buffs coach Stephen Duggan said. “They knew they got a real good fight in the first half. We were first to every ball. It was a 50-50 first half, in my opinion. We contained them and we kept them playing in front of us across the midfield. I would say in my time — this is my third season — that’s the best performance we’ve had against a Stansbury team in the first half.”
Neither team got much going offensively in the first 40 minutes, as Stansbury keeper Chad Coleman and his Tooele counterpart, Jaren Wilson, were largely untested. Stansbury tried to play the ball in deep as the Buffs’ defense tried to take away passing lanes, but it wasn’t until the Stallions adopted a more patient and organized approach that things started to turn.
“I’m going to try to say this the best I can — we kind of tried to pull our heads out of our butts a little bit,” King said. “I think we came out a little more confident than we should have. We came out not expecting them to play the way they did. There were a few too many balls in the air, and that made it difficult for us to play on the ground.”
Martinez broke the scoreless tie in the 43rd minute, converting a centering pass from junior Kade Littlefield. The ball took a strange hop just before it reached Wilson and slipped through the Tooele keeper’s hands, Duggan said.
“You’re always vulnerable at the start of the game, just before halftime and just after halftime,” Duggan said. “We kind of just switched off there just after halftime and that gave Stansbury the momentum.”
Fourteen minutes later, King doubled Stansbury’s lead off another pass from Littlefield just after a Stallions throw-in. Tooele made some runs against the Stansbury defense, but the Buffs were unable to break through in suffering their fourth consecutive shutout loss.
“We had some scary times there,” Jones said. “They played some balls over the top and were running on to them, and sometimes they got a little too close to goal for comfort.”
Stansbury will have two days off before its first region road game against Park City. The rest is well-earned, as Tuesday’s game was the Stallions’ fourth in six days.
“It kind of wore us out — our legs were a little weak,” King said. “Having some practices will help us get some of our plays in order.”
Tooele will play host to Union on Friday in a region matchup. Though he firmly believes that this is the year the Buffs can break their 11-season playoff drought, the Irish-born Duggan hopes March 17 brings his Buffaloes a little bit of luck.
“I’ll put my neck on the line here — we’ll qualify for state this year. I guarantee it,” Duggan said. “There’s no question about that. We’re not a pushover anymore. Teams have to come now and have to play us. We’re not going to lie over and let anybody beat us. We just need a little more luck — it’s St. Patrick’s Day on Friday, and if you’re looking for a bit of luck, you can’t ask for a better day than that.”