The stars were aligned perfectly last weekend and the Sun Valley Community School boys’ soccer team supplied its own galaxy of stars for its thrilling State 3A soccer tournament championship drive.
Unforgettably, the Cutthroats led by 10 seniors mastered the maze-like challenges of a one-goal opening round victory, a shootout semi-final win and a blowout championship game triumph to boast “back-to-back” state titles for the first time in school annals.
“What a phenomenal weekend!” said SVCS head coach Richard Whitelaw after his Cutthroats (19-1-2) blanked Weiser 6-0 in the State 3A tournament title game staged on a chilly Saturday morning at Middleton High School.
The Cutthroats ended their memorable 2019 campaign unbeaten in the final 21 games including their 1-0 shutout over Teton of Driggs Thursday and their spine-tingling 2-2 (5-4 penalty kicks) semi-final victory over American Falls Friday, both games in Caldwell.
Whitelaw, not known for hyperbole, called the shootout win over American Falls “definitely the most intense game ever. I have been fortunate to coach over 500 high school games and without a doubt that game had it all. Wow!”
“Man of the Match” Meeks Sanchez-duPont, the standout senior goalkeeper, secured the shootout win with two scintillating saves and junior Caelin Bradshaw calmly pounded the ball into the net for the winner as the 16th shooter on a 64-degree afternoon at Vallivue.
“It was a roller coaster of emotion,” said Sanchez-duPont, who made three shootout saves and also scored as the first Cutthroat shooter.
The galaxy of stars included leading scorer Cash Dart, the senior forward who scored both regulation goals to rally his team from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits. Dart equalized 2-2 using a tremendous second effort through two American Falls defenders with 1:46 left.
Yet, with less than two minutes remaining in the first 10-minute overtime period, Dart left the field with a concussion and was replaced by junior Willy DeWolfe. Dart didn’t return for the rest of the game, and was sidelined for Saturday’s championship.
Sanchez-duPont picked up the slack, making two incredible saves on legit Beaver chances by Brian Martinez and Victor Palacios in the second 10-minute overtime. Then, Sanchez-duPont took Dart’s place as his team’s first shootout player and made it.
He gave the Cutthroats the initiative and started a trend in front of a huge crowd.
Succeeding next for American Falls were Brian Martinez, Alex Cabrera, Daniel Pena and Edwin Gonzalez. Matching with goals for a 4-4 tie after the first five were Cutthroat seniors Fletcher Stumph, Ridley Lindstrom and Shea Brokaw.
The shootout moved to a alternating shot, sudden victory scenario. American Falls junior Fabrico Mata, the only left-handed shooter yet to trot out to the spot, shot high.
Sanchez-duPont learned and made an adjustment.
The keeper said, “They had been shooting down the middle a lot, and I had been diving left and right. I decided when the lefty came up to dive to the right. After he shot his ball high, that’s what I did with the final two shooters.”
Sanchez-duPont dove right and blocked the shots of Jose Jaime and Adolfo Alvarez. The Cutthroat fans shouted “Meeks! Meeks! Meeks!”
They quieted when Bradshaw walked to the spot—the fourth Cutthroat with a chance to win it. And Bradshaw won it, beating the superb American Falls senior goalkeeper Alexis Alvarez (15 saves, 2 in the shootout).
“Scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I knew what spot to go to,” said Bradshaw, who erased a bad memory of missing a shot for his Sawtooth United club team in a tournament shootout six years ago. Bradshaw added, “The mentality of this team the whole year has been we are not going to be beaten. It’s been a collective feeling—you put everything you have into it, and you just have to step it up.”
The winning outcome was a relief for Sanchez-duPont. “It was a really hard game. We had been 0-3 at state shootouts since we were freshmen. So we practice penalty kicks all the time,” he said.
“American Falls had a chance to win it but Meeks was phenomenal,” said Whitelaw. “He also made two wonderful saves within the first two minutes of the game. What a performance. What a day! An instant classic!
“It was one of the most exciting high school games in recent years, perhaps ever.”
Indeed, the Cutthroats lost 1-1 (4-2) to Teton in the 2016 state championship game at Twin Falls, and dropped 0-0 (5-3) and 0-0 (3-2) state games to Weiser and Snake River in 2017 on the Vallivue pitch.
Those shootout losses in 2017 meant the Cutthroats finished with 200 scoreless minutes and dropped their final two state games in shootouts after 0-0 ties. The team played that state tournament two years ago after losing Dart to a concussion.
No wonder Whitelaw had his doubts about Saturday’s championship game against Weiser, with Dart’s speed and reliable offensive abilities sidelined once again.
“I didn’t think we had a chance,” he said after the final win was assured.
His team proved him wonderfully wrong.
Title game turns into a rout
The Cutthroat galaxy of stars revolved around its senior defensive line anchored by co-captain Shea Brokaw and his reliable wingmen Trevor Harmon and Max Moss.
Always advocating the Cutthroat way, senior Ridley Lindstrom was dominant all weekend with his physicality and throw-ins resembling corner kicks that pressured the defenders crowded in the box.
Senior stalwart Fletcher Stumph along with junior midfielders Kai Nelson and Bradshaw answered the team chant of needing to win the game in the middle of the field.
The big question mark was replacing Dart up front.
Willy DeWolfe, a junior making his first-ever start in the championship game, quickly dispelled any doubts as the Cutthroats faced the headwinds of the first half at frigid Middleton High School.
He became “Super Sub.” He scored an amazing three-goal hat trick in the first 21 minutes and became the first Cutthroat player to score three goals in a state final.
“I didn’t know what to expect, just to charge hard and it worked out. Cash got us here.” said DeWolfe after. “State champs times two, baby!
Three minutes into the game, Lindstrom sent a cross pass into the box that DeWolfe headed into the goal. In the 11th minute, DeWolfe jabbed and jabbed in traffic, and Nelson got in the way of keeper Gabe Rasmussen, and the ball crossed the goal line.
Weiser had its best chances on longish free kicks by co-captain Nathan Turner and Marcos Tarelo that were blown by the tailwind and clanged off the crossbar over the head of Sanchez-duPont.
Then, Nelson delivered a pass to Lindstrom, who crossed to DeWolfe for an astounding 3-0 lead with nearly 60 minutes remaining.
Less than a minute remained in the first half when Stumph collected a loose ball rattling around at the top of the box after a Lindstrom free kick, and Stumph drilled a 25-yard goal.
“Arguably the goal of the year,” said Whitelaw. DeWolfe and Stumph shared “Man of the Match” honors in the title game.
In the second half with the tailwind, the Cutthroats continued to physically dominate the Wolverines. Sanchez-duPont and Lindstrom made penalty kicks, after a shove in the box and a Weiser handball.
For the game, SVCS outshot Weiser 14-7, had a 11-9 edge in free kicks and 3-0 advantage in corner kicks. The victory avenged Weiser’s 5-2 win over the Cutthroats on the same field in the 2015 State 3A tournament championship game.
In Thursday’s first-round game, “Man of the Match” Kai Nelson scored the 1-0 game winner in the 77th minute.
Whitelaw said, “It was a great cross from Finn Mallinen on the right, headed back across the face of the goal by Cash Dart, and Kai stormed in and placed a full volley in the back of the net.”
It was Whitelaw’s fourth state championship as head coach, the first title coming in his first year at the helm, 1992, and the second in 1999. In all, the Sun Valley independent school now has six state tournament championships.
The 10 Cutthroat seniors finished their careers with a 73-12-2 record, two state championships, 352-78 goals-against and 41 shutouts.
Check next week’s Local Life edition for a series of more state championship photos by Jimmy Grossman.
· Final team statistics: Community School 19-1-2 (10-0-0 home, 9-1-2 away, 13-0-1 league for #1 seed, 1st place in the High Desert Soccer Conference tournament making it 5 league titles in 6 years); 11 shutouts in 22 games. Guided by 28th-year coach Richard Whitelaw (351-132-40, .671 winning percentage in 523 games), the 2019 Cutthroats were unbeaten in their last 21 games. Whitelaw (37-21 at state soccer) took a team to the state championship game for the seventh time.
Goals scored: 90 (4.1 per game). Goals conceded: 19 (11 shutouts).
Individual scoring: Cash Dart 26 goals (79 career) scoring in 15 of his 20 games; Ridley Lindstrom 24 (72 career), scoring in 16 of his 22 games; Fletcher Stumph 11 (26 career); Toby Rafford 6; Kai Nelson 4; Willy DeWolfe 3; Finn Mallinen 2; Meeks Sanchez-duPont 2; Jett Carruth 2; Max Moss 2; Caelin Bradshaw 2; Shea Brokaw 2; Trevor Harmon 1; William Everitt 1 (19 career); Will Paquette 1; and an own goal.
CUTTHROAT NOTES—This year’s Cutthroat seniors compiled a four-year record of 73-12-2 for an .839 winning percentage. They won two state championships and one runner-up trophy..
Remarkably, Cutthroat parent Kurt Nelson is now the father of three children who have won state high school soccer championships. His oldest son Justin Nelson was a member of the 1998 Wood River High School boys’ soccer team that beat Weiser 0-0 (4-1 kicks) for the first of two Wolverine boys’ state titles—the only other time a Wood River Valley team has won back-to-back state soccer championships. Nelson’s daughter Kirsten Nelson was a member of Wood River’s 17-0-2 girls’ soccer team that won the 2000 state tournament championship in the first year of Idaho High School Activities Association sanctioning. And SVCS junior Kai Nelson was a strong midfielder for this year’s Cutthroat champions….