For the third consecutive season the championship of the Raccoon River Conference was in play when arch-rivals Perry and ADM met for their annual battle Tuesday.
Sixth-ranked Winterset took some of the sizzle out of the tussle by handing ADM a 1-0 defeat Thursday, but the Huskies already had a conference loss on their own schedule thanks to a 2-1 shootout win by host Perry April 5.
That left No. 11 Perry (10-2, 6-0) in full control of their own destiny while putting No. 10 ADM (13-4, 4-2) in the role of spoiler, and the Bluejays were not about to let the opportunity slide by.
Two years ago the Bluejays advanced all the way to the state championship match, but a loss to ADM, at Dewey Field, denied Perry the RRC title, and the memory of that stain on a special season was not forgotten by the Bluejay seniors.
“We were thinking about it for sure,” Perry senior David Cardenas said. “Especially towards the end of the first half is when I was remembering it. We hadn’t scored and I was thinking we couldn’t allow the same thing to happen to us again.”
Cardenas made sure it would not, as he took a pass from Alexis Macias just inside the 18-yard line, worked around a closing defender and beat the ADM keeper low and inside the left-hand post with 79 seconds left on the first half clock.
“I knew Alexis would bomb it up and get the ball to me, but I didn’t expect it to be perfect,” Cardenas said. “The defender was caught off guard a little bit, too, and was on his heels. He came at when really hard and I knew I could not one-time it, so I cut it back. He grabbed my jersey a bit and I was scared I wasn’t going to get it off but I got lucky and put it in.”
The score coming so late in the half may have rattled the Tigers a bit, who looked off-balance in the opening moments of the second half. Sensing the momentum swing, the Bluejays attacked aggressively, with Jesus Rodriguez passing to Cardenas, who found the nylon less than two minutes into the second half for a 2-0 Perry lead.
“We played about as well as we have all year,” Perry head coach Gary Overla said. “That was a great win to come off the last two or three games that we’ve played. Coach (Abraham) Cardenas put it best wehn he said ‘This game we were able to get out identity back and play like we are capable of playing’ and I don’t think I could have said it better myself.”
Perry had to rally for two goals in the final three minutes to top Ballard, 3-2, May 3 and were then blanked by No. 8 DC-G, 2-0, Thursday. David Cardenas said those games had an effect of the team prior to Tuesday’s match.
“Some of the guys looked a little nervous, but the senior stepped up and said ‘Guys, this is ADM. They know us and we know them and we think we are better, so lets go out there and show them’ and we did,” he said.
The Tigers had four shots on goal in the first half and just missed wide on a fifth attempt. They continued to apply pressure when possible in after the intermission, but the Bluejay defense was up to the task.
“We won the battle at midfield, at least for three-quarters of the game,” Overla stated. “Our defense stepped up and shut out a very potent side on the pitch and we played with a great deal of heart and enthusiasm. All-in-all it was a great win for the boys and now we have a chance to go to Carroll and win the conference title outright.”
Perry can wear the Raccoon River Conference crowns as undefeated champions for the second consecutive year by stopping the Tigers (2-10, 0-6). Carroll has scored 12 goals in 12 games while Perry has allowed only seven in 12 outings and has six shutouts. The Jays have outscored their RRC foes 20-3 in six contests.
A victory would earn Perry their sixth RRC title in 12 years. Perry owns crowns from 2005, ’06, ’08, ’11 and ’15.
The Perry junior varsity set the pace for nearly all of their game, only to have ADM score with 27 seconds remaining to force a 1-all tie. Three Jay defenders surrounded a breakaway Tiger attacker, and when the ball squirted free an unchecked ADM attacker rocketed the free ball into the net.
“Frustrating, because we had maintained control of the game for so much time,” Overla said. “We simply made a mental error and allowed that late goal. Hopefully we will learn from that mistake.”
ADM was a 1-0 winner in the freshman game, but Overla said he was pleased to see his ninth grade squad continuing to improve the quality of their play.
Tuesday’s win gives the team some room to breathe, David Cardenas said.
“Winning conference is one of our goals, and we can do that in two days,” he said. “But this was a big game and one everyone had been pointing at. Now we can refocus on our main goal, which is to get back to state and do well down there.”