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2A soccer: Well-studied Waterford upends top-seeded St. Joseph's on penalties; RSL Academy edges Rowland Hall

Waterford goalkeeper Atticus Benson is mobbed by his teammates after saving three penalties during a shootout to move the Ravens by top-seeded St. Joseph's in a UHSAA Class 2A boys soccer state semifinal Monday, May 17, 2021 at Juan Diego.

(Sean Walker, KSL.com)


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DRAPER — Atticus Benson had done his homework.

Just prior to Waterford's Class 2A state semifinal against St. Joseph, the Ravens' junior goalkeeper spent some time watching video of the Jayhawks' previous penalty shootout against Rowland Hall — and then he watched it again, three times over.

So when Waterford went into a shootout of its own against the No. 1 overall seed, his confidence level was soaring.

Benson admits he was 50-50 guessing during penalties. But he took each kick with confidence, made his choice — and won the coin flip three out of four times.

Benson made three saves during the shootout and helped Waterford hold on for a 3-2 shootout victory after Kasper Nilsson's early goal forced a 1-1 draw with the undefeated Jayhawks at Juan Diego Catholic High School.

"I felt really confident going in, and I knew that I could save any shot, as long as I went the right way," Benson said. "I felt really good about it."

His teammates took care of the rest. Lucas Walker, Tyler Martin and Nilsson each converted from the spot for Waterford (10-4-1), which advanced to face Real Salt Lake Academy at 1 p.m. MT Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium two years after falling in a similar semifinal shootout to Layton Christian.

"I asked the ref after the second shot for the score, and I knew I could either put us in a position to shoot and win, or I just needed to save one more," Benson said. "I didn't really keep track — but I kind of knew."

Ozzie Escalona tallied the second-half equalizer for St. Joseph, and Jonathan Ramirez and Keaton Gill each converted a penalty for the Jayhawks (13-0-1).

In the 33rd minute, moments after St. Joseph's was forced to sub out starting goalkeeper Joshua Ortiz with an injury, the Ravens earned a free kick just outside the penalty box. The backup keeper — who was forced on without proper warmup, gloves or even a goalkeepers' shirt (while wearing a practice penny to obscure his number) — mishandled a shot attempt and punted from just outside the box.

The call was quick; an honest mistake, but a handball for occurring beyond the borders of the 18-yard box.

Waterford was awarded a free kick, and Nilsson booted a furious shot that ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar, just inside the far post, to put the Ravens up 1-0 at halftime.

Benson made three first-half saves to help the goal stand up on the Ravens' only shot on goal of the opening 40 minutes.

"It was huge to get a goal that early," Waterford coach George Shirley said. "Kasper hit a beautiful set piece; he couldn't have placed it better.

"Atticus came over to me at the half, and said, 'it wouldn't have mattered who was in there — if I was in there, I wouldn't have saved that, either.' It was just a beautiful goal."

Escalona put one in with four minutes remaining, netting a goal off a corner kick set up by a perfect dummy that found the back of the net in the 76th minute.

The goal — and ensuing pandemonium — set off a celebration at the corner flag so raucous Escalona received a yellow card and was forced off for a stoppage. But the discipline was worth it for the top-seeded Jayhawks, who out-shot Waterford 14-4 in regulation of the 80-minute stalemate.

But with St. Joseph's cramping and stretching on the hot turf field before the second overtime, and the Ravens holding the stalemate through two extra sessions, Waterford felt as confident as can be.

After all, they had the goalkeeper who never misses his studies.

"I mean no disrespect to the other team; they were fantastic," Shirley said. "But in my opinion, Atticus is the top goalkeeper in the state. We practice these types of situations, and my confidence level in him was as close to 100% as I can be.

"He was nervous in the first half; he bobbled more than he normally would. But he settled in, and when it came to PKs, he knew exactly where he needed to be and exactly what he needed to do."

St. Joseph's huddles before a penalty shootout during a UHSAA Class 2A boys soccer state semifinal Monday, May 17, 2021 at Juan Diego.
St. Joseph's huddles before a penalty shootout during a UHSAA Class 2A boys soccer state semifinal Monday, May 17, 2021 at Juan Diego. (Photo: Sean Walker, KSL.com)

RSL Academy 1, Rowland Hall 0

At Juan Diego, Andres Rodriguez scored the lone goal of the match with just under five minutes remaining to lift the Griffins into the championship match for the first time in the program's short history.

The sophomore set up from the corner flag and whipped a curving ball under the top shelf that proved to be the match-winner in the 76th minute. Gavin Taylor nearly doubled the advantage two minutes later, but the Griffins held on for their closest victory of the playoffs over the Winged Lions (9-6).

JC Sanchez earned the shutout for RSL Academy (12-5), which advanced with the narrow win after opening the tournament with a combined 22-1 win over Merit Prep and Wasatch Academy.

The Griffins will face Waterford at 1 p.m. MT Tuesday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

3A Soccer

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