On a cold, blustery Tuesday night in western Kansas, the Manhattan High boys’ soccer team made history.
With a 1-0 win over Dodge City in the Class 6A quarterfinals, the Indians advanced to state for the first time in school history.
The game was a defensive struggle for most of the night, with gusty winds changing the way each team tried to play.
After 72 minutes of scoreless soccer, Jonathan Turnley was taken out inside the penalty box, setting up the penalty kick that would ultimately decide the game.
“Toward the end of the game, we managed to get possession and work the ball up the field,” Turnley said. “I got inside the box and tried to get a goal, and a player took me down. I didn’t hit the PK my best, but it went in, so I guess that’s all that matters.”
With a 1-0 lead and 8 minutes to play kicking into the wind, Manhattan clamped down defensively, with goalkeeper Alex Richt preserving the shutout with some important saves.
“When we finally got the opportunity offensively, we took care of it and we put it in,” Richt said. “Then those last 8 minutes, Dodge pushed really hard and they had a couple opportunities, then it was time for me to do my job and make a couple of good saves. We finished it out as a team — I’m proud of everyone.”
Manhattan head coach Frank Alonso said Richt showed how valuable he is in the final minutes.
“They really put it to us in the last few minutes with the wind, and Alex Richt was definitely our man of the match and made some great saves to keep the shutout,” Manhattan head coach Frank Alonso said. “The last eight minutes felt like two days. It was horrendous. It was just a crazy game.”
Senior Matt Liotta said the end of the game couldn’t come fast enough.
“After JT’s goal, that’s the slowest eight minutes of soccer I’ve ever played,” he said. “So when the final whistle blew, I was incredibly relieved and excited, just celebrating with my teammates and my coaches and friends that came down for the game on the fan bus.”
With the win, Manhattan (15-3-1) advanced to Friday’s state semifinals in Junction City where it’ll face undefeated and nationally-ranked Olathe East (19-0-0) at 5 p.m. In addition to the Indians, Blue Valley Northwest (15-3-1) and Derby (16-3-0) also advanced and will play each other in the 7 p.m. semifinal.
The third-place match begins at noon Saturday, with the state championship game to follow at 2 p.m.
“When I’m long gone and they’re old men, they can say they’re the first team in MHS history to go to state, and that’s something they should be really proud of,” Alonso said. “And the bottom line is now, there’s no pressure on us. We’ll just go play and see what happens.”
Alonso said the team has a tough match ahead, but he hopes the short travel distance to Junction City will provide another boost from fans.
“This win — I thanked the team for it, because it validates our program,” Alonso said. “We belong at state and it’s a wonderful feeling. But we want to keep it going. We don’t have an easy draw, but we expect it to be a home game for us with a lot of fans there. We’d love to have as many fans as can come out.”
Early in the match, it looked as if MHS would be in trouble after a frustrating first half with the wind at its backs and a 0-0 score at halftime.
“Playing with the wind actually hurt us,” Manhattan assistant coach Michael Lopez said. “We kept trying to play balls that weren’t working for us. Once we got to the second half against the wind, we started passing better.”
Manhattan had some chances in the second period, sending one shot off the cross bar, but eventually got its opportunity with Turnley’s penalty kick.
“It was one of the sloppiest games I think this team has played,” Liotta said. “But we persevered, and we had the heart and faith in each other to pull out the ‘W’, which is most important.”
In addition to the team bus, a bus full of fans made the trip to Dodge City as well, helping cheer for the Indians.
“I want to thank the kids on the fan bus and the parents for their amazing support,” Alonso said. “They truly have been our 12th man.”