By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When you make it this far in the state playoffs, you run into the best.
Ft. Zumwalt South showed why it’s on the cusp of winning a second state soccer championship in three years.
The Bulldogs answered Glendale’s second-half rally with a championship-level response, making key plays over the final 10 minutes of the match to earn a 3-1 victory in the Class 3 state semifinals on Saturday in Springfield.
“Can’t fault our kids, they played hard today,” said Glendale coach Jeff Rogers. “We always tell them, ‘Make someone beat you.’ And (Ft. Zumwalt South) beat us today.”
The match took a decisive turn with about 10 minutes remaining in regulation.
Glendale, trailing 2-1, had a chance for the equalizer in the 69th’ minute after drawing a foul in the box.
Ft. Zumwalt South goalkeeper Luke Dillon came up big.
Dillon, a junior and three-year starter who helped the Bulldogs win a state title as a freshman in 2018, dove to his right to make the save and preserve the 2-1 score.
“Impressive save,” said Ft. Zumwalt South coach Jim Layne. “That’s a true captain.”
Moments later, Ft. Zumwalt South drew a penalty kick on the other end. Karson Gibbs converted to give the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead and seal the outcome.
“That’s the separation today,” Rogers said. “Obviously, we played a great team today. There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the state right now.”
Gibbs had two goals in the match, giving him a program-record 47 for the season.
His first goal, in the 51st minute, put the Bulldogs ahead 2-0.
Glendale responded less than two minutes later.
A free kick into the box bounced around a few times before coming to senior and co-captain Aaron Baldwin, who found space and blasted a shot into the back of the net.
“(Ft. Zumwalt South) limited our looks today. Good team,” Rogers said. “But I loved our kids’ fight to get back and get a goal to make it 2-1.”
Ft. Zumwalt South took an early lead with Brendan Owens’ goal in the 8th minute.
Layne said Bulldogs tried to keep the game at ground level to counter Glendale’s size advantage.
“They made us work,” Layne said. “We’re not the biggest team in the world. (Glendale) had some great size and they were physical. I thought we matched up and competed with them really well.
“We knew they were good on set pieces. We knew they’d drive the ball and look for the flick. But I felt like, given our technical ability, if we kept the ball on the turf and moved it and handle it… we were going to get our chances. We have some players who are really dynamic on offense.”
The match, originally scheduled for a 2 p.m. start, was moved up to 11 a.m. due to weather concerns later in the day.
Layne said the early start time didn’t affect Ft. Zumwalt South’s travel plans.
The Bulldogs came to Springfield a day early (Friday) – like they typically do for far-away road games – and trained at Missouri State University’s soccer facility that night.
“We were all here together,” Layne said. “I got to monitor what our players were doing. The early start didn’t bother us too much. I’m just glad the weather kind of held off.”
The Bulldogs (22-4 overall) return to Springfield next weekend. They play Cape Girardeau Notre Dame (16-1 overall) in the Class 3 state championship game at 6 p.m. on November 20 at Lake Country Soccer/Cooper Family Complex.
Glendale finishes 17-5 overall. The Falcons were seeking their first trip to a state championship game since 2014.
Glendale graduates a seven-player senior class.
“I’m proud of our seniors and team,” Rogers said. “We always encourage our kids to leave their mark and I think this group did.”