Having appeared in the past two Class 2A boys' soccer title games, No. 2 Stillwater came into its record 29th state tournament appearance with another deep run in mind.
The Ponies' opponent, unranked Lakeville North, had other plans in their quarterfinal match.
Midfielder Ethan Kilmer scored what proved to be the game-winner for the Ponies (17-1-2) with 12 minutes, 36 seconds left to play in their 2-1 victory Thursday at Chisago Lakes High School. But goals were not easy to come by for Stillwater.
The Ponies struggled to find their way to the net through much of the first half. When they did, Panthers sophomore goalkeeper Evan Siefken, who had three shutouts during the Section 1 playoffs, showed confidence as he ran out into oncoming traffic to cut off many loose balls.
Lakeville North (11-7-2) struck first a little more than five minutes into the match on an unassisted goal from forward Logan Lyden. The first half featured fast, physical play by both teams.
Stillwater took a different approach after halftime.
"We played so much more physical [in the second half], and we tried to match their intensity off the ball," Stillwater coach Jake Smothers said.
Stillwater tied the score at 1-1 on midfielder Max Stauffer's goal in the 57th minute.
Afterward Siefken continued to stave off Stillwater scoring chances until Kilmer scored.
"I wasn't really thinking much," Kilmer said of his goal.
"I just kept running, I passed the ball to Spencer [Scott], he went to Ben Snyder. I knew where Ben was going to play it near the net, and I just ran right through and scored. It felt amazing."
Duluth East 4, Centennial 2: It's been nearly one year since the Duluth East boys' soccer team's last loss, which came in the Class 2A semifinals in 2017. After their victory over Centennial, the top-ranked Greyhounds (18-0-2) have found themselves back in familiar territory — only one victory from their first state title game.
Senior forward William Francis led Duluth East with two second-half goals, giving him 27 this season, and the Greyhounds never trailed but couldn't get much separation from the Cougars.
"They put a couple in the net, and we were scared for a bit, but we were confident," Francis said. "We have two games left, and we believe we are going to win two more."
Duluth East forward Sean Brueninghaus scored the first goal of the match in the 14th minute of the first half. It came only a few minutes after Centennial (15-4-1) nearly took the lead but midfielder Matt Hove's shot hit the left post.
The Cougars, rated No. 8, evened the score at 1-1 in the 25th minute on a goal from Demetrius Bernardy-Nelson, his 27th this season.
Midfielder Michael Reichhoff put the Greyhounds back in the lead at 2-1 with 3:48 left in the first half.
Francis then scored his first goal early in the second half. His long strike sailed just inside the left post to put the Greyhounds up 3-1.
The Cougars cut the deficit back to one goal with Jesus Galvan-Garcia's goal midway though the second half. Francis then scored an insurance goal to make it 4-2 less than two minutes later.
Duluth East will face No. 6 Minnetonka (14-2-4) in the semifinals on Wednesday. The teams played to a scoreless tie in September.
"We know our opponent, we have tape on them, so we will be prepared," Duluth East coach Corey Bachand said.
Minnetonka 2, Wayzata 1: Alejandro Ferrer-Lugo scored his seventh goal of the season midway through the second half, lifting the Skippers (14-2-4) over the defending state champion Trojans (9-5-5) at St. Cloud State. Teammate Sergio Rivas and Wayzata's Charles Kassmir traded first-half goals.
St. Paul Central 6, St. Cloud Tech 1: Daniel Barrett and Aiden Cavanaugh scored three minutes apart in the first half, and the Minutemen (18-0-1) turned in a dominating performance in defeating the Tigers (14-3-2). William Hintz made it 3-0 later in the first half on a penalty kick. The Minutemen scored three more times in the second half, with Mac Staloch getting two of the goals.