The coach of the losing team called it the most exhilarating game she had coached or witnessed as a parent. The winning coach called it “easily the greatest soccer game I’ve ever seen, let alone coached.”
Three minutes remained in the adapted soccer state tournament championship game in the physically impaired (PI) division Saturday at Stillwater High School. Undefeated Dakota United held a one-goal lead over the dynasty from Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka.
Sophomore Grayson Nicolay had knocked in all four Dakota United goals, and had two good chances denied as the clock wound down.
Robins coach Marcus Osnum called timeout and pondered that his team’s run might be over. Stay with the regular plan, he told his charges. If the team still trailed with 90 seconds left, then the defense would move up for a final frantic attempt at a tying goal.
As play resumed, one of those defenders, junior Jeremy Jost, had possession of the ball. “I saw right where I wanted to kick it,’’ said Jost, describing an opening on the left side of the net. “I didn’t think it was going to go in.”
It did, setting the stage for Tyler Sarff’s last-minute goal and the Robins’ dramatic 5-4 victory for their sixth consecutive state championship.
Dakota United (12-1) scored first, but the Robins (9-0) went ahead 3-2 only seconds before halftime on Joe Dubisar’s second goal. Then Nicolay tied it up again five seconds into the second half.
Nicolay scored three minutes later to give his team the lead. All the Hawks had to do was hold on — against a perennial power.
“I can’t ever sell these kids short,” Osnum said. “They amaze me every time they play.”
One of the most stellar, Sarff, had one goal and assisted on both of Dubisar’s goals before leaving the game because of a hip injury suffered in a fall to the floor. He later told Osnum that he wanted to get back in.
“Dakota’s a pretty tough team,” Sarff said. “I did not let them beat us. I believe in my team.”
The senior, playing his last high school adapted soccer game, knocked in the go-ahead goal with 41 seconds remaining. When the game ended, he was in tears.
“The biggest goal I’ve ever scored,” he said.
Later, Sarff sought out Dakota United coach Lorrie Buecksler and shook her hand.
“You and your team did awesome,” he told her. “You guys are quick.”
Buecksler, in her first year coaching adapted sports after several years with youth teams, said she’s normally low-key. She conceded that her blood pressure and heart rate “went through the roof” during the game in a way unlike any other coaching experience.
The game “brought out every emotion,” said Buecksler, whose praised her team’s effort. “You like to win but they did a great job.”
In the cognitively impaired (CI) division, Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville took the championship with an 8-1 victory over Park Center. The Blazing Cats, claiming their first adapted soccer title, were led by senior Brayan Estrada, who scored four goals.
Coach Shawn Tatge also credited junior forward Michael Burns and goalkeeper Stephen Friday for helping the team defeat higher seeds in their three state tournament games. Burns, Friday and Estrada were named to the all-tournament team.
“We wore the other teams down,” Tatge said.