Spencer Scott had looked for this opportunity in the past. He'd even tried it once this season, but a referee didn't allow it.
This time, however, the Stillwater attacker's timing was perfect. Scott took advantage of an obscure rule that allows teams to take a free kick as soon as the ball is set and caught the St. Paul Central defense unaware. He drilled a low 20-yard shot into the far corner of the net, lifting the Ponies to a 2-1 victory over the Minutemen on Wednesday in a Class 2A boys' soccer semifinal.
"All season, I look for that," said Scott of his abrupt free kick goal. "If you don't ask the ref for 10 yards, you can kick it right away, as soon as you set the ball."
St. Paul Central coach David Albornoz admitted the shot took his team by surprise.
"My goalie was on the post, trying to settle the goal at that time and they just took it on the run," Albornoz said. "It was a little bit of inexperience on my team."
Scott's shot ended a furious 10-minute stretch in the game at U.S. Bank Stadium in which the two teams combined to score three goals after going more than 64 minutes without a score.
St. Paul Central (18-1-1) scored first. Aiden Cavanaugh crossed the ball to teammate Mika Folstad, who drove a low-header into the Stillwater net, giving the Minutemen a 1-0 lead in the 65th minute.
Stillwater (18-1-2) answered shortly after. Max Stauffer headed a free kick right onto the foot of sophomore Gora Gora, who rifled it in during the 71st minute to tie the score.
Scott's game-winner came a little more than three minutes later.
"We talk all the time about how we respond," said Stillwater coach Jake Smothers, whose team will be making its third consecutive Class 2A championship game appearance. "I'm just proud of these guys for digging deep with 15 minutes left and coming back to score two goals like that."
Duluth East 2, Minnetonka 0: One superior striker and one grudging goalkeeper proved enough to advance Duluth East to the championship game against the Ponies.
Forward Will Francis scored on both of the opportunities he got and keeper Oliver Hasler stopped everything that came his way in the No. 1-seeded Greyhounds' win.
"With Oliver in the net and Will up top, we've been a pretty solid team," Duluth East coach Corey Bachand said. "We're hard to beat in an 80-minute game."
Minnetonka (14-3-4) tried. The Skippers controlled the action for most of the game, with much of the play in the Duluth East end of the field. They won the total shots battle 15-5, had six shots on goal to just three for Duluth East, and had six corner kicks to one for the Greyhounds.
"Oliver Hasler is a great keeper," Minnetonka coach Mike Rogers said. "We generated a lot of great shots and we just didn't get the ball past him. We can't say we didn't have our chances."
Duluth East (19-0-2), making its fifth state tournament appearance and second in two years, made the most of the few chances it got.
Francis' first goal came as a result of slick passing between Cal Goerdt, Seth Hoffman and Francis. Goerdt and Hoffman worked a give-and-go down the left side. With the defense occupied, Hoffman deftly slid a pass to Francis, who booted in a 12-yarder in the 16th minute of the first half for the game's first goal.
Ten minutes later, Francis took advantage of a collision between Minnetonka's Sergio Rivas and goalkeeper Luca Vereecken that resulted in a loose ball. Francis calmly knocked it in for a 2-0 lead.
"This is exactly what I wanted before the season," said Francis, who now has 29 goals. "We're one game away from the state championship. It feels amazing."