It was a warm fall day outside, but the heat was already inside the U.S. Bank Stadium, as the Class AA State Final matchup between the No. 1 seed Orono Spartans against the No. 3 Holy Angels Stars had just begun.
In only the third minute of play, Orono used one of their successful set pieces to score the first goal of the game. The Spartan’s weapon of choice was senior Ben Halloff’s monster throw in, which resulted in an own goal by the Stars, putting Orono up 1-0.
All game long, Orono played suffocating defense and contained the Stars in their own half. The Spartans continued to offensively press with seniors Andy DeWitt, Brody Cook and Ben Summers, and gave themselves multiple scoring opportunities. However, the only other goal of the game for either side, was a second half goal by Orono senior Matias Maule.
Unfortunately, the goal was disallowed because of an offsides call. Moments later, senior Ben Summers also had an opportunity after putting a diving header on net, but that too was thwarted, this time by the Stars goalie who was there for the save.
In the end, the No. 1 seed Orono Spartans would come away with the Class AA Championship, a deserving win against a strong Holy Angels team. The Spartans were able to keep Holy Angels to only two shots on goal, which is not something to which the Stars are accustomed. Orono’s leadership on the field was rewarded with four players being named to the All-Tournament Team: Brody Cook, Andy DeWitt, Cal Ehlen and Franklin Schwendimann.
The heart and the team effort that the Spartan’s displayed was that of a team who wanted this championship. It was also the last high school game for many of Orono’s 17 seniors and undoubtedly one to remember.
The Orono Spartans headed back to U.S. Bank Stadium for the Class AA State Semifinal on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
This was the Spartan’s third qualification for the state tournament and the second time for the Spartans in the last three years. They faced the Willmar Cardinals whose post season run has been cut short by the Spartans the last three years in a row.
With the first half underway, Orono’s defense was called upon early to make some critical saves, as Willmar came out strong and kept the ball in Orono’s half much of the first 10 minutes of the game. However, the Spartans struck first, as they often do, after senior Brody Cook was taken down in the Willmar box. Andy Dewitt took the penalty and placed it cleanly in the bottom left corner to make it a 1-0 lead for the Spartans.
Willmar’s best chance came right before the half when the Cardinals tied the game off of a free kick from mid-field that floated out of reach of Orono’s goalkeeper Peter Nicklow. Fortunately for the Spartans, Willmar was called for a foul against Nicklow and the goal was called back. The score remained 1-0, Orono, at halftime.
With the second half barely under way and the ball bouncing into the Willmar box, Franklin Schwendimann was able to strike a backwards volley into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead for the Spartans.
That second Orono goal gave the Spartans the momentum that they needed. They continued to create scoring opportunities and were able to convert in the 19th minute when senior defender Cal Ehlen headed the ball off of a signature long throw in by Ben Halloff.
Willmar was finally able to answer in the 33rd minute of the second half when a Cardinal cross found their striker to make it a 3-1 game, Orono. In the end, however, Willmar’s lone goal and continued offensive effort was not enough for this experienced Orono team.
With a final score of 3-1, Orono, the Spartans will advance to the Class AA State Final at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6th at U.S. Bank Stadium against #3 Holy Angels Stars.