So let me first say I missed the game. Not knowing the playoff schedule months ago, the family scheduled a trip to Madison for homecoming, a Badger game and some “Cooper time”. The game ended up a blow out win, so that was nice. The weather, well that was not so nice, a blizzard broke out in the first half and with the score pretty lopsided, our only goal was could we make it to “Jump Around” to start the 4th quarter. We made it…..just barely.
But I have to also say, I had a different game on my mind. My mind kept drifting to the Memorial playoff game starting at 1:00. Could we get hot and make a deep run into the playoffs. This year Memorial was not a dominant team ranked in the Top 10, but they have lots of talent, and enough senior leadership that anything is possible.
So, sitting at the Badger game, and just thinking about the Abes. I had planned to text for updates but decided against it. I know the emotion of the playoffs and did not want to distract any of the parents. I have a few people who I rely on for updates but it just didn’t feel right to bug them. And then my mind started to wander……how are they doing….I wonder what the score is…..if no one is texting me is that good….if no one is texting me is that bad….why isn’t anyone texting me!
So around 3:00, I start checking the WIAA website for updates, but there is no update. Plenty of 1:00 games have ended and the scores are posted, but nothing on Memorial. Starting to get anxious and start checking the site every few minutes. Nothing. I mention it to Kathy. She decides to check. After 4:00 now, so there must be a final. My instincts are not good, feel like I would have heard if it was good news. Kathy connects with a Memorial soccer supporter for an update. I walk into the room as she is on he call and initially I think it’s good news, Kathy is smiling and the call seems energetic…..I get a bit excited.
But it was not meant to be, the news is not good, the energy is from the caller explaining the intensity of the game, the unbelievable finish, the craziness of two red cards, the amazing comeback from down 2 goals and down a player and a coach, the almost beat them anyway feeling, but eventually just the gut wrenching loss, the heartbreak of coming up just short. Plenty of tears were shed I am pretty sure. From players and parents.
A few thoughts.
-It must have been an unbelievable emotional roller coaster. Memorial takes an early 1-0 lead at the 10 minute mark. Emotions riding high. Our defense has been strong all year. Appleton responds to tie it up at 28 minutes. Appleton takes the lead on a PK. Frustrating when refs award PK’s in playoff games and they are almost always a bit controversial. Appleton scores in 45th minute. Really disappointed, from up 1 to down 2 in the final 17 minutes of the half.
-Frustrations likely hit their peak in the first 3 minutes of the second half. I can only imagine. Within the span of a few minutes you have a player sent off on a red card after picking up his second yellow. You are down 2 goals and down to 10 players and you feel like it can’t get any worse than this, there is nothing else that can go wrong, no possible way…….but then is goes from frustration to the absurd. The ref calls a second yellow on the bench and your head coach is red carded and is forced to leave the game. What! The emotional roller coaster just hit bottom. Oh man!
-Bench Yellow’s are always interesting. Is the coach frustrated and not getting any calls. Is a coach trying to protect his players. Is a coach just looking to make sure the next calls go their way. And why can’t the referee manage their way thru that…..why do they feel the need to interject themselves into the game and become the spotlight. This game had 2 PK’s, very unusual. 2 Red cards, very unusual and a coach ejected, really very unusual. I just don’t like a ref who has an ego or not enough confidence to absorb a little discomfort. It’s a big game, emotions are riding high. There are yellows and PK’s and you must expect the coaches are going to get a little animated. Red card the coach. Amazing.
-The comeback. So there are a few directions a game can go when the head coach is ejected. It can go South quickly. The team can fall apart, blame the refs, blame each other and never recover. Or the team can use the moment to come together, find some resolve, take the red card personally and refocus and double their effort to honor their coach. That’s what I love about Memorial soccer. The tradition, the talent, the coaching, the support….all combine to make the Abes a program that fights. And that’s what they did. They score just a few minutes after the red card. 3-2 and a flicker of hope. Their game actually improves playing down a man. They are playing free and loose and really start to control the game. Shots are coming. They look dangerous. And then at 81 minutes, it happens, a little redemption for the earlier PK and the red card, Memorial catches a break and has their own PK. Mitch Brenner who has scored the first two goals, calmly buries the PK for a hat trick. The emotional roller coaster is racing down the steep hill and your hands are in the air and you are screaming. Oh my. 3-3 and 9 minutes to go. Fans and parents are fully drained at this point. Emotions are zapped. The nerves are shot. You have nothing left to give.
-9 more minutes and 2 overtime’s of sit on the edge of your seat, a goal ends this game emotion. Memorial has chances to end it. But a game like this can really only end one way, a PK shootout. And not your run of the mill, exciting, everyday type shootout, no, this game needed something more. It needed the longest PK shootout likely in Memorial soccer history, not sure there are any stats on this one, but coach Eric Wirth mentioned he never remembered one longer and he has been a player or coach since the early 2000’s. I don’t either. 12 deep. That is just crazy. Not sure if Memorial had chances to win at any point. I know from the paper that there were a few moments where they might lose on the next kick. Emotions drained but likely the nerves were tingling, anxiety everywhere. Hold your breath and pray anxiety. You feel like you just watched 10 scary movies.
-I wish I had the PK recap….it finished at 10-9 in the 12th round. I am not sure what happens after everyone on the field shoots. Did Memorial have players start taking their second PK of the shootout? I don’t know that rule. Never thought I would need to know that rule. But eventually it has to end. PK endings are cruel. 12 round PK endings are brutal. I just can’t imagine at the end even being able to breathe or stand up. Parents must have been completely drained. Can you imagine being the parent of a GK. It takes a special person. No way. I love Tyler Hanson and would not want anyone else in goal for my team. The pressure on shooters is immense. Can you imagine stepping up to take the kick in the 10th-11th-or 12th round of the shootout. My legs would not have worked, but these kids just do it. Amazing!
-And then it is over. Appleton celebrating an epic victory. Memorial players collapsing and devastated, Memorial parents likely just sad. They are hurting for their kids. It is just so final for the seniors and parents of seniors. It’s over. No more games. I remember last year at state and just feeling empty for awhile. But as well, feeling really proud. I hope that is the lasting feeling. Being really proud that the boys were able to overcome a really strange game, fight back to tie and battle to the end. Epic for sure. Just not the good kind!
I wish I could hug every player and say Thanks. Thanks for all your hard work and representing Memorial soccer. You are part of the family . My lasting memory from last year and it fits pretty well for this year. No words, just a hug!