Bennett from the Bleachers: After an unforgettable 20 minutes, men’s soccer earns return trip to State

Bennett Durando
Sports Columnist

BENNETT FROM THE BLEACHERSTheir story keeps getting better and better.

The Statesmen men’s soccer team, a year after its run to its first State title, is headed back to the Final Four after Saturday’s quarterfinal at Farmington (23-2-2) presented the latest dramatic plot twist in the team’s story.

Still in a scoreless deadlock with 20 minutes left in regulation, it was beginning to appear as though 80 minutes wouldn’t be enough to determine who would go to State.

About 18 minutes later, there was no doubt which team deserved it more.

Webster, led by senior forward Mitchell Paulson’s hat trick, buried Farmington 4-0 in the last 20 minutes to advance to play Helias Catholic H.S. at Soccer Park this Friday in the State Semifinals.

“The game was actually pretty tight,” Paulson said, in spite of the misleading final score.

“I was really thinking in the moment,” Varsity head coach Tim Cashel said. “The only thing (I thought ahead about) was, ‘Are our penalty takers prepared?’”

Cashel, confident in his experienced, 12-senior team, didn’t want it to come to penalty kicks.

“I think we’re the better team than who we’re playing a lot of the time,” he said. “When you’re the underdog, you want that time to elapse, but we want as much time on the clock as possible.”

This Webster team, the defending State champs and the top-ranked team in Class Three, has found amazing ways to win games the last two years. This is one of the most improbable ones yet.

“This is why I love soccer,” Cashel said. “One thing that makes us a special group is we have a lot of special players who can do special things.”

The latest of these special players was the hero on Saturday, Paulson, who also scored the game-winner in the second half to beat Rockwood Summit in the District championship.

This time, Paulson put Webster on top with 19-and-a-half minutes left when he beat the Farmington keeper on a run from the right wing.

Then with 5:58 to go, after a couple of key defensive stands had protected the narrow lead, Paulson swung and missed on an open chance in the box, but then buried a second chance shot to double the Webster’s lead.

“Especially in playoff soccer, your energy level and concentration level has to be high at every moment,” Cashel said. “When we score that first goal, their approach changes because they have to chase a goal. When we score the second one, for them it’s not insurmountable, but at that point they’re thinking we’re two goals down, we’re probably going to lose.’”

Farmington simply seemed to lose its composure after the second goal. Only 32 seconds later, right after a “Mitchell Paulson” chant had been started by the Webster faithful, the Statesmen scored a third, this one by senior Sheriden Smith.

Think about that: I was tweeting this game, and when Smith scored the third goal, I had not even had time to send out that the second one had been scored. In 32 seconds, the Statesmen had taken a tight game and blown it open. All that was left was for Paulson to finish what he’d started 15 minutes earlier.

He did so with 2:30 left, completing the hat trick exactly 17 minutes after he’d put the Statesmen on top with his first goal. It was Webster’s third goal in a stretch of three minutes, 28 seconds.

“The ball just fell to my feet in front of the goal,” Paulson said on his trio of late goals. “It wasn’t anything spectacular, but our team just played very well, and I was there to finish.”

The Statesmen now will look to finish Helias’s season on Friday at noon, after HCHS upset Glendale 3-1 in the quarterfinals last week.

“On Saturday we enjoyed the victory, then I started to assemble the information on Helias,” Cashel said. “I have a lot. I have to organize it to show the boys this week.”

Cashel, also taking into account a possible berth in the Final, has assistant coach Chris Allen scouting on potential title game opponents St. Dominic and Grain Valley.

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