TOPEKA — Soccer is not typically known as a game of buzzer beaters.
Perhaps that’s what made the Manhattan High boys’ soccer team’s 2-1 win over Washburn Rural that much sweeter.
Manhattan midfielder Jonathan Turnley found himself with the ball streaking toward Rural’s goal with less than 10 seconds left in regulation. He fired a shot past Rural goalkeeper Walker Farrar for the go-ahead goal as the large contingent of Manhattan fans erupted in cheers.
Turnley said he was relieved the shot found the back of the net.
“It happened so fast — I need to watch it on film,” Turnley said. “A bunch of guys kept it going up the field, just trying to get that last shot, and it opened up. I was in the right place, and I’m glad I didn’t miss.”
The clock wound down all the way to 0:01 before the officials reset it to six seconds. Rural pulled its goalie and sent everybody forward, but had no chance to even get a shot off, sending the Indians into a frenzy of celebration, first with their teammates, then to the fans on the opposite side of the field.
“It’s so hard to put it into words,” senior Matt Liotta said. “I mean, we had home away from home here with the 12th man — that was a blessing.”
The win, combined with a loss by top seed Wichita Northwest, means the Indians will travel to Dodge City on Tuesday at 6 p.m. for the quarterfinals, with the winner advancing to state in Junction City next Friday.
For this group of Indians, making it through to the quarterfinals represents uncharted territory. Manhattan’s last appearance came in a loss to Maize in 2008.
“It definitely feels good to be able to carry on and get past this hump,” senior Peter Maier said. “This is all new territory for us — we’ve never been there, so it’ll be a journey. We’ll see what happens.”
Early in the match, it looked as if Manhattan (14-3-1) would struggle to get many chances against the Junior Blues’ defense.
Rural (13-2-2) got on the board first, scoring a goal on Austin Halsey’s free kick in the eighth minute.
But neither team got much going the rest of the half, with the Junior Blues retaining their 1-0 lead into the break.
As the second half wore on, Manhattan started to get more and more scoring opportunities against the Rural defense, which finally culminated in the tying goal in the 67th minute by Maier, placed at the top of the goal where no one could get it. The pass came from Austin French, getting the ball to Maier as he came streaking toward the goal with a clear shot.
With Manhattan playing with three forwards most of the second half, the defense had to work to keep Rural from adding to its lead. The move paid off, however, as the Indians kept the pressure on Rural and eventually got the two goals they needed to win.
Manhattan head coach Frank Alonso said the formation switch was a necessary risk.
“The backside was wide open, but we changed our mindset with 10 minutes left in the first half,” Alonso said. “and they had a good 10 minutes toward the end, but before that, I feel like we kind of dominated the second half.”
Assistant coach Michael Lopez said the switch helped put pressure on Rural.
“We kept putting on the pressure, we switched to a 4-3-3, and they were struggling with that,” Lopez said. “We felt like it could happen, but these boys were impressive, they didn’t give up. It was amazing.”
Rural coach Brian Hensyel said he thought his team may have let its guard down in the final seconds anticipating overtime.
“A lot of times, the last 20 or 30 seconds, guys think we’re headed to overtime and they let down their guard,” Hensyel said. “We didn’t get the initial touch, and we headed a ball backwards, and from there it’s just a mad scramble.
“They have a very good team. I’ve been here for 17 years, and I think it’s the best Manhattan team I’ve seen, and they’re deserving.”
After two seasons of regular-season games ending in 3-3 ties, the entire team was ecstatic after the win, which snapped a 37-game home winning streak for Rural.
“It’s huge,” Turnley said. “We just beat the defending state champs. They’re a great team, I’m just glad we got the ‘W’ this time.”
Liotta said winning on Rural’s home field made it even sweeter.
“It’s so nice to beat them on their home field,” he said. “They’re an incredible team, you have to respect them. They do not lose here.”
Alonso said the win is a statement game for the Indians.
“Washburn’s the benchmark,” he said. “They’re the benchmark in the league, and they’re a benchmark in the state. We’ve been knocking on the door the last couple years, and we got a little lucky.
“That’s part of playoff soccer — we didn’t play our best. It was just a game for us to finally get across the finish line.”
Hensyel said the two teams were evenly matched.
“We knew when we paired up against each other that it was going to be a crazy battle, because it always is,” he said. “They made one more play than we did and they deserve it. A lot of times we’d rather play somebody who doesn’t know anything about us — they know everything about us, we know everything about them.
“It’s like two brothers fighting it out.”
With the long trip to Dodge City set for Tuesday, Alonso stressed to the team to enjoy celebrating now, because the team will have to keep working if they hope to make it to state.
“Maybe it’s our time, maybe it’s not, but we’ll enjoy tonight and see what happens,” Alonso said. “The boys showed tremendous heart and confidence and never gave up, and as a coaching staff, we couldn’t be prouder of them.”