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Soccer: Panthers fall just short of playoffs

by Will Bublitz
Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky Hi Daily News

A week ago, Middle Park High’s boys soccer team knew it had to win at least two of its last three regular season games if it were going to be assured a playoff berth.

Not only did the Panthers fail to win even two of those games, they lost all three. As a result, the team’s 2007 season is over.

In the final trio of games, Middle Park lost 4-0 to Kent Denver on Thursday, Oct. 11.

Then last Saturday, the Panthers suffered a 4-1 defeat to Peak to Peak. With one narrow chance remaining to make the playoffs, they fought hard but fell 1-0 to Denver Christian on Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed not only for our team, but for two other great teams like Faith Christian and Holy Family who also didn’t make the playoffs,” said Coach Patrick Jellum. “Our season was not frustrating … because our kids gave 100 percent.”

Jellum said the Panthers could be proud of their best-ever season record of 9-5-1.

“That’s three more wins the our best previous record,” he said. “We also made a total of 53 goals which beat our 2002 record of 37. Our 36 assists made this year doubled the highest number we’d ever had for a season. And we had only 18 goals scored against us, which was 10 fewer than any previous season.”

The Panthers’ last three games began with Thursday’s 4-0 loss to Kent Denver. It was an especially frustrating game for the Panthers who gave up a couple of those goals to penalty kicks on questionable calls by the officials.

“Those were poor calls,” Jellum said. “We were called for handballs when they should have been considered incidental and play-ons.”

Combined with that, the team was missing defensive fullback Dylan Foley, who broke his ankle in practice the previous day.

“His absence threw us off as a team, but you don’t overcome questionable calls,” Jellum said. “It was tough giving up penalty kicks in a game between two evenly matched teams.”

Middle Park shook off their disappointment with the results of Thursday’s game and had a good practice Friday. They went into Saturday’s home game against Peak to Peak with high hopes.

“We came out strong and played them tough,” Jellum said. “Peak scored first, but we didn’t hang our heads. Ten minutes later we tied it up with a goal of our own before the first half ended.”

Prior to Middle Park’s score, the Panther coaches made some tactical adjustments, putting Zach Peterson in as fullback and Ian Sutton as stopper.

“Ian is our top scorer and we hoped that by putting him in as a stopper, they wouldn’t key in on him. And it worked,” Jellum said.

The play began with Nutting making a strong drive down the side of the field and then making a cross pass to Sutton. Taking quick aim, he blasted the ball into the net.

Entering the second half, the Panthers went back on the attack, but slipped up after 12 minutes of play.

“In probably our only mishap of the season, we did not properly clear the ball in our 18,” Jellum said. “We tried to pass it, but it was not well placed. A Peak to Peak player slid in, took the ball and made a kick that our goalkeeper Mike Zieff could not have stopped.”

After Peak to Peak’s second goal, the second half turned into a battle between the two teams with emotions running high on both sides. That led to a major misstep for the Panthers when Zieff was red carded for unsportsmanlike behavior.

“It was probably a poor decision on my part when I should have subbed him out before it happened,” Jellum said. “I could see he was getting really frustrated. It was unfortunate, but a lesson learned.”

Sutton took over as the Panther goalkeeper, but it was impossible to stop the penalty kick from scoring.

“We were then down 3-1,” Jellum said. “We needed to tie or win the game. We then called in Tyler Florquist and Walter Shoup into the box. Tyler made some good saves for us.”

Before Saturday’s game ended, Peak to Peak scored once again.

“The scores in both the games against Kent Denver and Peak to Peak were not indicative of how contested they were,” Jellum said.

Tuesday’s game against Denver Christian was literally Middle Park’s last chance to make the playoffs. But, alas, it was not to be, as the Panthers fell 1-0 to the Crusaders on their Denver field.

“It was a see-saw battle between two strong teams,” Jellum said. “The loss was unsatisfying, but the effort put in by our players was quite rewarding.”

Sutton was put in as goalkeeper for most of the game, making seven saves in the first half. Center midfielders Nutting and Elliot Levett provided the offensive threat while Nathan Birdseye took over as lead forward. The wings Nick Rankin and Erik Hetzler were in the thick of the action.

“We asked our younger players to step up and they did,” Jellum said. “Our goal was to keep the game as close as we could.”

Middle Park’s defense held score until 14 minutes into the second half when the Crusaders kicked in a goal. To give the Panthers more firepower, Sutton then came out of the box with Florquist taking over as goalkeeper.

“The final minutes of the game were our best and we played hard to the last second,” Jellum said. “Tyler made some great saves and proved he has the ability to excel in that position.”

Looking back over the season, Jellum said the team has much to be proud of, including the fact that this was the first year that other teams scouted the Panthers prior to their games.

“We missed the playoffs by only one goal,” Jellum said. “We want to thank all of our fans, parents and community businesses that supported us this year. Their support allowed us to be an elite team in Colorado’s elite league.”

With the end of its 2007 season, the Panther soccer team is saying goodbye to its seniors ” Ian Sutton, Luke Nutting, Patrick Kohlwey, Nick Rankin, Mike Zieff, Andrew Clausen, Cody Gardner and Zach Peterson.


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