In the buildup to Saturday’s game at Community School, Buhl High School boys soccer coach Ado Mustafic advised his team to not allow the Cutthroats to gain an advantage in the opening 20 minutes.
If Community School did so, he knew his team would dig a hole that could prove too difficult to climb out of.
Mustafic’s warnings weren’t heeded, as the Cutthroats notched two goals in the first 20 minutes of the contest. They added two more before halftime and held the Indians at arm’s length in the second half to earn a 4-1 victory and gain sole control of the top spot in the High Desert Conference.
The triumph was payback for Buhl’s 2-1 win on Sept. 5, in which the Indians replied to a first-half Cutthroat goal with two second-half strikes, including a winner from freshman Teo Sanchez with five minutes to go. Community School head coach Richard Whitelaw said it was imperative for his players to make a statement on Saturday.
“Our 4-1 victory shows we were having an off day away at Buhl,” Cutthroats senior captain and defender Henry Cherp said. “I’m glad we’re making our mark and showing the league where we belong.”
The Indians made it about halfway through the 20-minute danger zone Mustafic designated by holding off the hosts despite the Cutthroats (9-2, 8-1) controlling the tempo. However, Community School junior forward Cash Dart collected a second ball from a Peter Morawitz corner and lashed a shot into the top corner at the 11-minute mark.
A spirited uptick in tempo by Buhl (7-2, 5-2) followed, with senior captain Victor Quezada curling an inch-perfect cross to the back post, where Sanchez, the smallest player on the field, got his forehead to the ball and put in the equalizer.
Just two minutes later, though, Community School junior forward Ridley Lindstrom headed home a tally of his own, enabling Mustafic’s nightmare scenario to unfold.
“We fell asleep, man,” Mustafic said. “We really did. We try to get them ready as much as we possibly can, but that first 20 minutes, I told them it’d be crucial, and it didn’t happen.”
The Cutthroats struck again in the 28th minute with a headed goal by Cherp, who made a foray forward for a long throw-in from Lindstrom and placed the header perfectly into the corner of the goal. Two minutes later, Dart notched his second via another header, this time from a corner kick taken by Morawitz, a senior midfielder and captain.
With a clear height advantage over the Indians, the Cutthroats were constantly attempting to take advantage of long throw-ins and corner kicks. They also tried to move quickly in order to hit Buhl before its players were set.
“That’s a real important part of the game, to play fast and play big,” Cherp said. “Especially when we’re playing Buhl, who’s a good challenge and a good match, we’ve got to make sure we’re sticking to it.”
The halftime score of 4-1 remained until the final whistle, as the Cutthroats weren’t able to impose their will on the game as much in the second frame. Buhl came out composed and sharp, creating far more chances than it did in the first half.
However, they still couldn’t convert.
Senior captain Sebastian Loza couldn’t direct a free header from a corner toward goal minutes into the period. Another corner produced a sequence of shots, but the ball bounced around the box, blocked by one Cutthroat after another, and never reached goal. Quezada had a good header saved, and junior Daniel Urias put a shot into the side-netting.
Still, the improved play instilled a bit of confidence in the Indians.
“They brought their game and we didn’t come to play until the second half,” Quezada said. “We stepped it up, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Despite the defeat, Mustafic believes his team can take positives from the 0-0 second-half scoreline, a period in which he said the Indians played “if not better, as good” as their opponents.
The loss ends a seven-game win streak for Indians, but it gives them a reason to play with more fire and preparedness, should the teams meet again in the district tournament, Mustafic said.
That hunger was clearer on the Cutthroats’ side on Saturday, with Whitelaw calling the victory a bit of redemption for his players who suffered the loss at Buhl 10 days ago.
“(There was) more urgency,” Whitelaw said. “We were first to the ball, and we finished well. Clinical finishing. The boys were up for it.”