For second straight season, the Wildcat soccer season came to an end on penalty kicks as Columbia Falls fell in Frenchtown in the opening round of the Class A playoffs Saturday, 3-2.
After battling to a 2-2 tie through regulation, two overtime periods and the first six penalty kicks, the Wildcats missed their seventh to give the Broncs the win in a tightly-contested game.
“We dominated them in the field of play. The boys knew it. The fans knew it. We just couldn’t get that third goal we needed to win. It’s hard to swallow, knowing that the better team lost. I think we really had a chance of making it to the state title game,” head coach O’Brien Byrd said. “There is so much luck involved in penalty kicks. It’s the same way we went out against Polson last year. It just makes me want to puke.”
A pair of uncharacteristic fouls inside the box led to two early Frenchtown goals on penalty kicks in the game’s opening 26 minutes, leaving the Cats scrambling to erase the deficit.
“We fought like lions with everything we had to tie that game back up. It was a gutsy performance and a tough way to end the season. We gifted them two goals in the first 20 minutes and that was just hard to overcome,” Byrd said. “It’s a tough loss to swallow, but we hold our heads high after the effort we gave. It was a valiant effort and almost a heroic success.”
Simon Magg got the Cats on the board with a penalty kick of his own just before the half and Seth Hoffman was able to tie the game at 2-2 with a goal on an assist from Johnny Carl in the game’s 44th minute.
The Cats dominated the ball for the majority of the game, taking six shots on goal to Frenchtown’s four. Both teams had six corner kicks in the contest and five saves. Keeper Story Stemborski had all five saves for Columbia Falls.
With the loss, the Cats finish the season 7-5-1. The team will graduate six players from this year’s team, including Stemborski, Seth Hoffman, Noah Golan, Reed Sandstrom, Mikey Tamburelli and Preston Trenerry.
Exchange student Magg leaves the team after setting the school record for goals in a game with five against Libby and is also second in goals scored in a single season with 16.
Despite the losses, Byrd says he is excited about the future of Wildcats soccer.
“We are graduating a bunch of studs, amazing guys that I love and always will, but I think we will be better next year than we were this year, as crazy as that sounds,” he said.