ANDOVER — In order for Kapaun Mount Carmel to advance to the Class 5A boys soccer quarterfinals, it had to protect a lead — a problem for the Crusaders in past seasons.
Kapaun held off an Andover Central attack led by forwards Zack Meeker and Matt Hamm in the second half to win 1-0.
"In the past couple of years, holding goals has been our weakness," Kapaun midfielder Jacob Ewers said. "Last year we got up 2-0 on Newton and lost that game. It's a confidence boost for us to hold a 1-0 lead because that's been our downfall. We're as confident as any team in 5A."
Forty-one seconds into the second half of a stalemate between two aggressive defenses, Kapaun's Michael Sheets found a crease between two defenders and got by them. In a one-on-one, Sheets fired past Andover Central goalie Chris Watts for the lead.
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"They'd been defending us well all day, and when I got the ball I didn't think I would be able to break through," Sheets said. "It was a big goal for us."
He would find himself in a similar situation two minutes later but missed his target wide left.
Andover Central defenders did enough work around their own goal so that Watts didn't even have to make a save in the first 27 minutes. Despite the loss, the Jaguars' defense set a school record by surrendering 18 goals all season.
"I've got nothing but respect for Kapaun," Andover Central coach Mark Brooks said. "It was like trying to contain a nightmare."
Neither team could find its mark in the first half. Despite 10 combined shots on goal and eight combined corner kicks, they entered the half scoreless. Andover Central's Zach Meeker led his team's attack with three solid shots on goal, but Kapaun goalie Kobu Mashnouk held his ground with saves on each shot. Mashnouk finished with six saves.
"It was probably the most intense game that I've been a part of in my Kapaun career, and it's fitting that it is in the regional final," Ewers said. "We were expecting this kind of game from the very start. We've played these guys both times in the last two regionals and both games were tight."
Kapaun Mount Carmel (13-5) 0 1 — 1 Andover Central (12-5-1) 0 0 — 0
Second half—Kapaun, Sheets (unassisted). Shots— Kapaun 4-5—9; Andover Central 6-3—9. Saves— Kapaun, Mashnouk 5-1—6; Andover Central, Watts 2-1—3.