Head for the ball

A tie can be a good thing in soccer. Three ties in six days against the three premier programs in the state is a very good thing for a Minot High School team, which struggled to open the season.

The latest draw came in a 2-2 match Tuesday against West Region leader Bismarck High. The Magicians scored twice to take leads off junior forward Ekow Annan’s headers, but the Demons responded each time with goals from sophomore Hunter Johnson.

“We played Century and then Shanley and now Bismarck – three of the top teams in the state – all in one week,” MHS coach Cody Saunders said. “That’s just tough. To have that effort, it’s just tough. Yeah, I think (we’re) peaking. A tie against a team in first is definitely not a bad thing.”

MHS (4-3-4 overall, 2-2-3 region) remained five points behind first-place BHS (9-0-4, 5-0-2), but moved into a tie with Century for third in the region. The Magicians have played all three Bismarck schools to ties. St. Mary’s beat Century 3-2 on Tuesday to move within two points of the Demons.

The Magicians scored first against the Demons with Annan’s header less than five minutes into the match at Optimist Soccer Complex. Junior defender Jay Gray delivered a well-placed ball into the left side of the box from about 40 yards out. Annan redirected the ball inside the near post, where BHS senior goalkeeper Michael Matzke could only deflect it with his right hand.

“I got there just ahead of the defender and I was just trying to get a touch on it and it went in the bottom corner,” Annan said.

The goal awakened the Demons, who fired two long-range shots at MHS senior goalie Garrett Weishaar before the 10-minute mark. Annan had two more quality opportunities stoned by Matzke in the first half as the teams traded chances. Weishaar punched away a BHS cross late in the half and senior defender Ben Love cleared a ball off the MHS goal line on the second of a quick pair of shots.

“Effort is there,” Saunders said. “We came out, scored the first goal, had a pretty good first half and just made a couple defensive mistakes. Ekow had two fantastic goals for us. Midfield did a good job. We just kind of got a little excited in the second half and started kicking the ball more and that’s not how we play. We gotta pass.”

Bismarck opened the second half similar to how Minot opened the game. Less than five minutes after the break, Johnson blew by MHS senior defender Drew Johnson on the dribble and buried the one-on-one shot against Weishaar.

Four minutes later, Annan scored again off a long pass. Senior midfielder Matt Oswalt crossed the ball from about 45 yards out on the right side. Annan timed his jump well and guided the ball into the left side of the net.

“Ekow’s one heck of a good player,” BHS coach Tim Green said. “I mean, the kid finishes everything that’s near him.”

Johnson answered again in the 67th minute with an assist from senior Cole Olson. Johnson sped by a handful of Magicians to snag Olson’s pass just inside the box and crushed a shot past a helpless Weishaar.

“(Johnson’s) a really explosive player,” Green said. “Obviously, part of our game plan is to find ways to get him the ball into space. He’s not only fast without it, but you saw how fast he is with it and that’s very dangerous for back lines, and he’s proven time and time again this year that if he gets a little bit of space he can go to goal and finish.”

MHS had its chances to take another lead in the final 10 minutes. Matzke stopped a low Annan shot in the 73rd minute following a gritty run and drop pass by senior forward Joey Lisner. Gray made a near perfect cross in the 78th minute, but no MHS player was nearby as the ball traveled along the 6-yard box. In the 79th minute, senior Ryan Crabtree took a free kick from about 25 yards out and Oswalt’s header sailed wide left.

“We’re getting a lot better,” Annan said. “We just need to put the ball in the net more and keep them out more. We’re playing better than most of these teams, we just gotta get the right results.”

Weishaar finished with six saves and Matzke had seven. MHS plays Fargo Davies at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Mandan.

Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.