JACKSON – The game-winning goal was buried in the back of the net before most people could figure out what happened.
It’s a call rarely whistled for because it’s an uncommon mistake on the pitch.
Green River sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Fillett accidentally stepped over the line at the top of the 18-yard box before punting the ball down the field, and the sideline official shook his flag above his head to claim he didn’t miss it.
Tied 1-1 in the 73rd minute, Cheyenne East junior Carter Rich sent the direct free kick set up right in the center and just outside the box past the Wolves’ wall and Fillett. The ball ended up in the mid-high left netting for the 2-1 lead.
“I knew immediately I had to take that free kick,” Rich said. “After they set up their wall and the keeper was ready, I had a perfect path to the goal. We have a lot of trick plays we can do on a free kick, but I just kept this one simple.”
The East No. 3 Thunderbirds (10-5-1) will next play East No. 1 Thunder Basin (16-0-1def) at 11 a.m. today in the semifinals.
West No. 2 Green River (9-9-2) and East were scoreless throughout the first half and the first 15 minutes of the second half.
“It took us about 20-25 minutes to get settled into the game,” East coach Ryan Cameron said. “That may have been because of nerves, which is understandable in the first round of state. But with about 15 minutes left in the first half, I thought we started playing better, moved the ball better and found ourselves in some dangerous places a little better.”
The T-Birds and Wolves scored goals inside a minute of each other in the 55th minute. East was first when senior Kjell Stehr sent a long pass up to senior Isaiah Tapia, who out-ran the Green River defense.
“(Junior) Chance (Aumiller) and I were running onto it at the same time, and without talking, he kind of just let me have a go at it,” Tapia said. “I saw the keeper come out of his box and gave it a little tap to roll past him on the other side.”
The Wolves didn’t let the T-Birds play with the lead for long. About 45 seconds later, senior Chase Stoeger sent in a long free kick that went over the head of senior Haden Counts.
Down 2-1 after Rich’s go-ahead goal and with five minutes left, Green River assembled a flurry of chances with a couple of corner kicks and quality scoring chances as the seconds ticked down.
One of those was when East senior keeper Thomas Watson tried to come out to corral the ball, but couldn’t. What seemed like an open-net shot for Green River was deflected by senior defender Taigen Freeman for the save.
After the game, “I told him, ‘Thanks dude, I just got caught in the moment,’” Watson said. “I need to learn how to play my position and settle down.”
EAST 2, GREEN RIVER 1
Goals: East, Tapia (Stehr), 55th, Rich (free kick), 73rd, Green River, Counts (Stoeger), 55th.
Shots: East 10, Green River 7. Shots on goal: East 6, Green River 4. Saves: East 3 (Watson 2, team 1), Green River 4 (Fillett).
Corner kicks: East 6, Green River 6. Offsides: East 0, Green River 2. Fouls: East 10, Green River 12. Yellow cards: Green River, Vergara, 77th