Boys soccer: Roughriders end Ottumwa's season

DES MOINES — For nearly 56 minutes on Monday night, the dream was very much alive.

The Ottumwa High School boys soccer team were in a dead-even battle with Iowa Alliance south division champion Des Moines Roosevelt in the Class 4A, Substate 7 semifinals. The Bulldogs were playing with confidence at Mediacom Stadium and had an opportunity to stun the ninth-ranked (3A) Roughriders on their home turf and move on to play for a state tournament berth.

If Ottumwa could avoid any mistakes over the next 24 minutes, the dream of a postseason upset could at least have a chance of becoming a reality. Instead, late mistakes ultimately turned a potential dream into a nightmare for the Bulldogs as the Roughriders took advantage of turnovers and defensive breakdowns, clinching a 5-1 win with a four-goal rally in a 19-minute span.

"The final result, I don't feel, does the play justice," Ottumwa head boys soccer coach Andy Maw said. "We gave up a number of goals that shouldn't have happened. It was just a mental collapse. We felt like we were in a good spot at halftime. This is a team (Roosevelt) that really took it to us hard in a short period of time, so going into halftime tied at 1-1, it felt like we had a chance. We just had to tighten some things up."

Ottumwa returned to Des Moines to face the Roughriders at Mediacom Stadium for the second time this season, having lost a 3-0 conference regular-season match back on Apr. 5. Ephraim Lunganga recorded a hat trick in the first half of that match as the Bulldogs managed just four shots, including just one on goal, over the 80 minutes of their fourth match of the season.

For most of the first half on Monday, it appeared that Ottumwa would be in for more of the same frustration against the Roughriders. Lunganga scored his 17th goal of the season, making a long run past Bulldog defenders down the sidelines before burying a shot past Luis Ramos Bonilla in the 35th minute giving Roosevelt a 1-0 lead.

"We had a little bit of a break coming into the match," Maw said. "Not having a match for over a week, I think, can put you behind a little bit."

After going nearly 119 minutes without putting a ball in the back of the net against Caden Lane, Roosevelt's all-conference goal keeper, the Bulldogs suddenly struck for a goal with just 80 seconds left in the first half. Oscar Rodriguez sent a strike through traffic that caught Lane off balance and off guard, stunning the Roughriders with the tying goal.

"It's one of those things the goalie had shifted his weight and by the time he saw the shot all the way, it was on the other side and he didn't have a chance to spring back in the other direction," Maw said. "That gave us confidence. To catch a goal keeper off balance on a shot that really wasn't that hard proves we can find goals.

"That was the message at halftime to the guys. Get shots."

Ottumwa did early in the second half, making the early strikes with hopes of putting the go-ahead goal into the net. Yeferson Rodriguez Mendoza missed on a run to the net in the first five minutes while a long strike by Ramon Hernandez beat Lane, but drifted just wide of the open the net in what proved to be the best chance for the Bulldogs to take the lead against the Roughriders.

Roosevelt ultimately settled down Ottumwa's attack, gradually moving up the field as the second half went along. Finally, with 24:10 left, the Roughriders found a mistake to take advantage of as Jonatan Villatoro lost possession of the ball along the sidelines allowing Lunganga to dribble into the box and fire home the tiebreaking goal, giving Roosevelt a 2-1 lead.

"A lot of the problem for us was our coverage," Maw said. "We have to make sure that, not only does someone put pressure on the ball, but someone else is over there to give support. I think there were too many times where we were afraid to step, which allowed them to take more space and make the easy plays."

That allowed Roosevelt (12-4) to break the game open in the closing minutes. Ethan Rodriguez was able to double the one-goal lead for the Roughriders, hammering home a loose ball that was dropped by Bonilla off a bicycle kick attempt by Lunganga in 66th minute.

Ottumwa (9-4) had a chance to get back into the match just seconds later as Rodriguez drew a foul in the box on an attack with 13:16 left. Lane, however, made the biggest save of the match stopping the penalty kick by one of the five seniors to play their final match on Monday night for the Bulldog boys.

"I feel bad for our seniors. They don't deserve to go out with a 5-1 loss," Maw said. "This has been a great season. It's been a great season. I've enjoyed this senior class. I've been able to coach a lot of them and have gotten to know them since they were just kids starting out playing club soccer. Oscar, Ethan (Argueta), Justin (Seaba) have all been playing together since they were around 7-years-old. They've grown up together. It's just sad that it comes to an end like this."

Lunganga secured his second hat trick of the season against Ottumwa, scoring on a breakaway in the 70th minute, before Lwendo Ekyamba finished off the match scoring off a rebound strike with 5:10 remaining for Roosevelt's fourth goal of the second half. The Roughriders battled No. 10 (3A) Iowa City High on Wednesday night at Mediacom Stadium for a berth in the Iowa High School Boys State Soccer Tournament while Ottumwa looks forward to continuing the climb towards being a state tournament contender themselves in the years to come.

"One thing I've talked about doing going into next year is trying to play some tougher teams. We need to be playing competition like Roosevelt and Iowa City High throughout the regular season," Maw said. "We've had some games where the competition is not much for us at all. That makes it difficult when you are trying to play at this level.

"You need to be playing at this level all the time even if you get beat during the season. It's better to get beat during the regular season and learn so you're always ready to play at this level."