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High school boys soccer: Waterford, RSL Academy punch tickets into 2A championship with narrow semifinal wins

Waterford High School keeper Atticus Benson was the hero of his team’s 2A semifinal win over St. Joseph at Juan Diego High School in Draper as he made three penalty kick saves.
Waterford keeper Atticus Benson is congratulated by teammate Leo Stockham after Waterford beat St. Joseph in the 2A semifinals as Benson made three penalty kick saves
James Edward, Deseret News

When 100 minutes of soccer wasn’t enough to decide a winner in Monday’s 2A semifinal between St. Joseph and Waterford, a decisive penalty shootout became necessary.

For St. Joseph, after beating Waterford 12-11 in a wild shootout earlier this season, the players were confident that they could duplicate that result.

So did Waterford keeper Atticus Benson.

Thanks to a video uploaded to YouTube, Benson was able to scout out the tendencies of St. Joseph’s penalty takers ahead of the match and was confident in the direction they would shoot.

“I probably would’ve dove the same way for most of those kids shots, but it gave me the confidence to go that way and not second-guess myself,” said Benson.

Sure enough, Benson stopped three of the five shots he faced, the last on a diving save in the fifth round of penalty kicks as Waterford secured the 3-2 penalty shootout victory over top seed St. Joseph. Waterford will now advance to Tuesday’s 2A state championship at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy against RSL Academy.

RSL Academy beat Rowland Hall 1-0 in the second 2A semifinal at Juan Diego High School on Monday to book its place in the final. Andres Rodriguez scored the game’s only goal in the 85th minute as he curled a corner kick straight into the back of the net.

For Waterford coach George Shirley, once it became necessary for penalties he had complete confidence in his keeper.

“No disrespect to the other team, they are fantastic, but in my opinion Atticus is the top goalkeeper in the state. We practice these type of situations, so my confidence level in him is as close to 100% as it can be,” said Shirley.

His confidence was just as high in Will Marshall in the first round of penalties, but St. Joseph’s Joshua Ortiz made a diving save as the Jayhawks led 1-0.

Shirley wasn’t worried though.

“The guys afterwards I had just as much confidence as I did in Will that they would put it in the back of the net,” he said.

Lucas Walker, Kasper Nilsson and Tyler Martin buried Waterford’s next three penalties to give the Ravens the 3-2 advantage heading into the fifth round, setting the stage for Benson’s heroics.

Earlier this season, Waterford lost to St. Joseph 2-1, and Shirley challenged his players to play more in the midfield in the rematch to limit St. Joseph’s chances. It played a role in a strong defensive performance in the first half, which Waterford led 1-0 after a Nilsson free kick in the 33rd minute.

Shirley thought his team started playing a bit too defensive as the second half wore on, with St. Joseph eventually capitalizing on with a Ozzy Escalona equalizer in the 76th minute.