By Terry Boehmker
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Highlands boys’ soccer team found out why Lexington Dunbar’s explosive offensive attack has been hard for opponents to handle this season.
Dunbar scored less than three minutes after the opening kickoff and went on to defeat Highlands, 3-1, in a state quarterfinal game Saturday at Lexington Henry Clay High School.
The Highlands defense played well, considering Dunbar was on the attack for most of the game. The Bulldogs did not keep track of their shots on goal, but there were a lot of them.
“It’s a real bad feeling, honestly,” Highlands senior sweeper Cole Davis-Roberts said of his team’s inability to stymie Dunbar’s quick attack. “You’re doing your best, but they’re just so skilled offensively you’re bound to get beat eventually.”
Dunbar, state runner-up the last two seasons, advances to the semifinals with a 23-1-2 record that includes a 19-0-2 mark against in-state opponents. Highlands ends the season with a 17-7-1 record.
Dunbar scored twice in the first half and maintained its 2-0 lead until the 73-minute mark when both teams got a goal within the same minute on the game clock.
Shortly after Dunbar lost a player to a red card ejection, Highlands sophomore Noah Sellers got his team’s first goal off an assist by senior teammate Colin Dean to put a spark into the Bluebirds.
After the ensuing kickoff, Dunbar sent a ball down the right side of the field and Highlands senior goalkeeper Nathan Tippenhauer seemed to be waiting for it to roll into the penalty area so he could scoop it up.
But Dunbar senior forward Nathan Jones kicked the loose ball across the field and senior midfielder Nelson Ng booted it into the net to make it 3-1.
“That killed it,” Davis-Roberts said. “We had a lot of momentum and (Dunbar) came back and did their thing. They scored and it knocked everything out of us.”
Jones scored Dunbar’s first goal off a crossing pass from junior midfielder Tyler Joy-Brandon less than three minutes after the opening kickoff.
At the 17-minute mark, officials called a tripping foul in the penalty area against the Bluebirds. Senior midfielder Riley Calhoun took the penalty kick for the Bulldogs, but Highlands starting goalkeeper Nick Breslin made a diving stop to his left.
Highlands had a few scoring opportunities during the first half, but the Bluebirds weren’t able to put the ball into the net before Dunbar got its second goal.
At the 32-minute mark, senior forward Sean Samuel Portier ripped a low shot that got past Breslin and crossed the goal line.
Dunbar coach Todd Bretz said he was happy with his team’s 2-0 lead at halftime, even though the Bulldogs dominated possession for most of the first 40 minutes.
“Anytime you can go into halftime with a lead it’s a great thing,” Bretz said. “We knew it was going to be a tight game and they were going to play us hard the entire game, so being able to go up 2-0 was important.”
Play in the second half was much more physical with the Bluebirds going all out to keep their season alive. When they finally scored, it looked like the momentum would shift their way, but Dunbar got a goal less than a minute later to regain control.
“I was pleased we put the goal in and I thought the adrenalin was on our side,” said Highlands coach Matt Winkler. “But, as a coach and a referee, you know that the next three minutes is the most key, critical minutes -- either you put one in, they put one in or you hold them still.”
The loss ended the high school careers of the 10 seniors on the Highlands roster who were hoping to claim the program’s first state title.
“Win or lose, when we walk off this field we want to be happy with how we played and what we left on the field, and I think we did that,” Winkler said.
HALFTIME: 2-0. GOALS: LB–Jones, Piorer, Ng. H–Sellers. RECORDS: Lexington Dunbar 23-1-2, Highlands 17-7-1.
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