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2A state soccer: Big second half sends Columbia River to state championship

Rapids score three unanswered goals to beat North Kitsap 4-2

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: May 27, 2023, 9:33pm
7 Photos
Members of the Columbia River boys soccer team pose for a team photo  after beating North Kitsap 4-2 in the Class 2A state championship match at Renton Memorial Staadium on Saturday, May 27, 2023.
Members of the Columbia River boys soccer team pose for a team photo after beating North Kitsap 4-2 in the Class 2A state championship match at Renton Memorial Staadium on Saturday, May 27, 2023. (Tim Martinez/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RENTON — The Columbia River boys soccer team likes to say that the next five minutes are the most important.

But the Rapids’ fortunes turned quicker than that – scoring twice in less than a minute to propel the Rapids to a 4-2 win over North Kitsap on Saturday, earning River the 2A state championship.

“Momentum is everything in game like this,” River senior Cole Benner said. “So just killing the other team’s momentum and continuously putting them (pressure) on, that’s the biggest thing on our team – the next five minutes. Every time we score or get scored on or every time we score a goal, it’s ‘the next five minutes we have to play as hard as we can.’ Because that’s when you’re most susceptible to being scored on.”

Momentum was on North Kitsap’s side early in the second half Saturday night. The Vikings tied the match 1-1 on a penalty kick late in the first half, then scored another in the 43rd minute to go up 2-1.

14 Photos
Columbia River boys soccer players make a dogpile in the middle of the field after beating North Kitsap 4-2 in the Class 2A state championship match at Renton Memorial Staadium on Saturday, May 27, 2023.
Columbia River boys soccer state championship match Photo Gallery

The response for Columbia River (24-0) took a bit more than five minutes. About 15 minutes later, Tyler Brown punched in a corner kick to tie the match 2-2.

Less than a minute later, off another set-piece play, JP Guzman scored to put River ahead 3-2.

“Those set pieces are what wins and loses games for us,” senior Alex Harris said. “Their first goal came off a foul right there in the box from a set piece. That’s how we let them back into the game. And then obviously we got two goals to go back ahead in the game from set pieces.”

Senior Hunter Cunningham added: “Getting that tying goal was a huge moment shift, tying the game up. It’s like ‘we’re back in this.’ And then we got third goal to put us up one. And then we’re like ‘we can get another.’ ”

River would get another when Harris scored his second goal of the game in the 65th minute. From there, River had to withstand a frantic final few minutes as North Kitsap brought pressure, leading to several yellow cards on the Rapids.

“You want to battle out there,” Cunningham said. “You want to give it all you’ve got. Sometimes you’ve got to take a foul. Sometimes you’ve got to get a card, if it fits the moment.”

“Naturally, we’re in a state championship game,” Harris added. “Everyone is going to be playing with heart and giving it their all. So sometimes emotions come out. That’s just how it works.”

When the final whistle sounded, the Rapids’ emotions poured out as Harris dropped to his knees in the middle of the field, then was swarmed over in a dogpile of his teammates.

“Honestly it’s unmatched,” Harris said of the feeling. “To fight with my brothers, we’ll forever be a family. And to do what we just did – come back from 2-1 down. We all had so much confidence in each other, so much spirit, that we knew we could do it.”

It’s been a long road for this state title, River’s first since 2018. The three previous seasons for this year’s crop of seniors ended in disappointment.

Their freshman year was wiped away by the pandemic, and COVID restrictions prevented a state tournament from being held their sophomore season.

Then last season, River’s bid for a state title ended with a state semifinal loss.

But this year, the Rapids hoisted that championship trophy and let their emotions out.

“There is nothing like this feeling,” Benner said. “I don’t even know how to explain this. Just being able to see that what we put for the last three months is worth it. It means everything to all of us. We’ll be singing along to everything on the way home. It’ll be fun.”

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