ST. GEORGE — It took seven games and an extra five minutes or so, but the Crimson Cliffs Mustangs soccer team fell for the first time to a Region 9 opponent this season.
Snow Canyon’s Jake Wittwer, Region 9’s top goalscorer, headed in the game-winning goal from mid-air on a cross from Damon Lund from the right corner that just got over the leaping Mustang keeper Jack Monson’s outstretched hands, leaving the crashing Wittwer all alone near the baseline as Snow Canyon won, 3-2.
With the ball in the back of the net, the Mustangs drew their first loss of the season and kicked the door to the No. 1 spot in the Region 9 standings wide open. Crimson and Snow Canyon sit atop with 6-1 records, with Dixie (5-2) and Desert Hills (3-2) lurking close behind.
“It’s huge for us,” Snow Canyon head coach Zac Hales told St. George News after the win. “If we wouldn’t have gotten this one, it would’ve put the region basically solely in Crimson’s hands. Now, it kind of opens everything back up for everyone, not just us.”
Crimson Cliffs head coach Isaac Klingonsmith had previously told St. George News that the Mustangs had “the talent to win out in region,” going so far as to say they were “unbeatable” when they were on. Before Thursday, and even at points during their game against Snow Canyon, that did look to be true.
But those comments also lingered in the backs of the minds of the Warriors leading into the game.
“Especially when their coach says they’re unbeatable, everyone says they’re going to win, it feels good to take it to them like that,” Wittwer said.
It did not appear that Snow Canyon would “take it to them” in the early going, however. The Warriors had some early looks but didn’t convert while goalkeeper Xavier Pinna kept them in the game with two clutch saves within the first 20 minutes.
Crimson broke through just before the 16-minute mark. Ramon Mitchell Squires took a free kick from the football 24-yard line, rolling a lead pass into the box. Andy Lagomarsino for Crimson and Kobe Robinson for Snow Canyon got tied up contesting it, leaving a slow roller right in front of Kai Klingonsmith, who deflected it off Pinna into the net.
Wittwer tied it at the 30:13 mark of the second half after taking a feed from Jeyson Perez in the middle of the Mustangs’ backline and broke free, beating Monson far side and low.
Klingonsmith responded just two minutes later, converting on a penalty kick after a Mustangs player was tripped up in the box.
Sanders Esplin set up overtime by taking a feed from Brock Schroeder, dribbling across the front of the box to the right side, turning and firing far post with just over 12 minutes to play.
Snow Canyon controlled play in overtime and converted on Wittwer’s header before the period was halfway complete. The Warriors had a couple of other looks early in the extra period and held the Mustangs almost exclusively to midfield or their backfield.
Lund slipped past a defender with a spin move then lobbed the pass straight over the middle to Wittwer, who nearly collided with the goal post on landing.
“I could’ve hit the post, I wouldn’t have felt it,” Wittwer said. “It felt good. He played that ball across, I saw it, had all this space and I just put it in.”
For the Mustangs, the loss is a small setback and it costs them the chance of a coveted undefeated Region 9 calendar in their first full season as a program.
But to coach Klingonsmith, the game could have gone either way and it’s just a learning experience.
“It was a really good game for both teams,” Klingonsmith said. “Both teams had good chances to put the game away before overtime and I’m overall just happy with the performance.”
Crimson travels to Desert Hills on Tuesday and Snow Canyon hosts Pine View. The Mustangs and Warriors rematch on April 27 to conclude the Region 9 schedule with possibly huge seeding implications on the line.
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