The race for the 2022 4A championship has been narrowed down to two teams.
The No. 1-seeded Crimson Cliffs Mustangs and the third-seeded Ridgeline Riverhawks punched their tickets to the 4A title game Tuesday at Juan Diego High School, knocking out Desert Hills and Dixie, respectively, in two very different ways.
Goals couldn’t be found in the opening semifinal of the day, as the Mustangs and the Thunder blanked each other for a full 100 minutes of game play.
A penalty shootout was needed to determine the winner, and thanks to two misses off the post from Desert Hills, Crimson Cliffs secured the 4-3 advantage in the shootout to book its trip to Rio Tinto Stadium for a chance at the school’s first ever state championship.
The Mustangs came out of the gates strong, generating plenty of first-half chances. As the teams went to the halftime break, it looked like Crimson Cliffs was the team who had the greatest likelihood of generating the game’s opening goal.
But as the second half kicked off, the Thunder flipped the script and became the team who was looking the most threatening in attack.
Scoreless at the end of regulation, the game went to two overtime periods, where each team had a fair share of chances to secure a golden-goal winner.
Ultimately, the game was won by Crimson Cliffs in the shootout with penalty conversions from Peter Butterfield, Ryan Woolley, Jamison Enfield and Scotty Mckittrick.
Despite the stout defensive performance, it wound up being a fortunate result for the top-seeded team in 4A, according to Mustangs head coach Isaac Klingonsmith.
“First half, we had the momentum and run of play, but in the second half (Desert Hills) stepped up and started winning every 50-50 ball — it was just their half,” Klingonsmith said.
“Overtime was pretty even and it went to the shootout, which is pretty much a coin toss sometimes, and we got lucky. Desert Hills did a great job, but we’re excited and we’ll be ready to go tomorrow.”
The Mustangs typically practice penalty shots about twice a week, with each player taking only one shot, to simulate a real game scenario — a method that appeared to benefit the squad in Tuesday’s semifinal match.
“They were about as prepared as you can be for a shootout. … They did a great job,” Klingonsmith said.
Unlike the first semifinal of the day, the matchup between Ridgeline and Dixie featured its fair share of goal scoring.
Five goals were scored between the two sides, but four of the five came from the defending champion Riverhawks, who cruised to a fairly comfortable 4-1 result over the Flyers.
Juniors Ryan Johnson and Grady Workman each notched goals in the opening half for the Riverhawks, with Workman’s goal coming off an impressive free kick service from teammate Garrett Jenkins four minutes before halftime.
Carrying a 2-0 lead advantage into halftime, Jenkins said that he and his teammates were feeling extra confidence heading into the final 40 minutes of play.
“They were about as prepared as you can be for a shootout. … They did a great job.” — Crimson Cliffs head coach Isaac Klingonsmith
“We kind of came in as a ‘second half team,’” Jenkins said. “I don’t know why it is, but we’ve struggled to perform in the first half and always come out (strong) in the second half.
“So when we came out in the first half and took it to them, I think it just proved that we were the better team and that we were taking it to Rio (Tinto Stadium).”
Jenkins added a third goal to the Riverhawks’ tally just two minutes into the second half, as he outran a Dixie defender to win the ball and dribbled around the keeper for an open-net goal.
Dixie’s Jorge Quintero pulled a goal back for the Flyers to make it 3-1 with 29 minutes to play, but Johnson iced the game for Ridgeline in the 79th minute when he scored his second goal of the afternoon.
Most of the Ridgeline goals were won thanks to relentless effort and speed in pursuit of the ball by the Riverhawks attackers, who simply outworked Dixie at times.
Jenkins said the team knew after watching Dixie’s film that they could take advantage of the Flyers’ offside-trapping scheme if they played the ball deep and timed their runs correctly, but he also said that the Riverhawks were just simply determined to get to Rio Tinto for the second straight year.
“We have a lot of motivation right now, we want the back-to-back championships, we want two rings,” Jenkins said with a smile.
Both teams will go into the championship showdown with considerable momentum, with both the Mustangs and the Riverhawks winning their last 10 games.
One of those win streaks will come crashing to a halt Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium.