Up until Tuesday, the Thunder Mountain High School boys soccer team had lost every single one of their matches against the historically superior Juneau-Douglas High School. The young program had dropped multiple games a year for the better part of a decade and only rarely mounted a serious challenge to their crosstown opponents.
But that past is now prologue. For the first time in school history, the Falcons tied the Crimson Bears.
The narrative turned in the period of just eight minutes. Trailing 2-0 Tuesday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, junior Jacob Babcock and freshman Logan Miller scored late in the game to even up the score.
The game appeared over even as Babcock scored on a penalty kick in the 78th minute. But the Falcons kept attacking and drew a JDHS handball to set up Miller’s free kick from just outside the penalty box.
Miller’s shot soared just under the middle of the crossbar. JDHS sophomore keeper Tad Watson got one hand on the ball but the force of the shot carried it into the net.
Teammates swarm Thunder Mountain freshman Logan Miller after he scores in stoppage to tie the game. First time the Falcons have tied JDHS in program history! pic.twitter.com/hCsJLNDKNB
— Empire Sports (@akempiresports) May 9, 2018
“It’s easier for a left-footed player to take it when it’s on the right side of the box,” Miller said when asked why he was chosen to take the kick. “I just knew I had to bend it over the wall and I tried to get it as far to the opposite side of the keeper as I could.”
JDHS coach Gary Lehnhart, whose team received goals from Bryson Mitchell and Jerry Ramirez-Leyva, said the game changed when Mitchell was forced to sit with a red card early in the second half.
“We were down a man for most of the second half and at that point, we had to change everything,” Lehnhart said. “We arguably lost one of our better players, the go-to guy in the middle, and we were playing down a man. And I thought we stepped up to it pretty well.
“It was a strange set of circumstances, you got to take your hat off to them. They got a penalty kick on a ball that hit someone’s hand inadvertently … and then they got a free kick and the kid hit it.”
TMHS coach Josh Odum has spent five years on the Falcons coaching staff. Early on, it was customary for TMHS to lose by double digits to JDHS. The losses to their crosstown rival weren’t as ugly last season — 5-0, 4-0, 6-0, 3-0 — but the Falcons weren’t able to score.
It was the same story in the teams’ first meeting this season: Mitchell, Ben Campbell, Kanon Goetz and Ezra Geselle all scored in a 5-0 win.
But the Falcons soon showed improvement, scoring goals in six of their next seven games even as they continued to lose. They picked up their first win of the season on Saturday against Redington High School after losses to Palmer and Chugiak.
“They wanted it tonight,” Odum said. “They were ready to work, they were mentally here, physically ready. That’s what a whole season of conditioning will do for you.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.