FOND DU LAC — The first step in earning that elusive first WIAA state championship has been taken by the McFarland boys soccer team.
With a quick burst of two goals early in the second half Saturday afternoon, the Spartans overpowered a game Fort Atkinson 3-0 in a WIAA Division 2 alternative spring state tournament semifinal at Marian University.
With the victory, the Spartans (12-0-1) advanced to the WIAA state championship game for the third consecutive school year. Coach Brett Ogorzalek's Spartans have fallen in the Division 3 final two years in a row, including a painful 2-1 decision to Shorewood in November, 2019.
McFarland, which has about 16 players back this year from that 2019 side, will take on Green Bay Notre Dame in the Division final at 7 p.m. Notre Dame ousted top-seeded Shorewood, 1-0 in overtime, in a semifinal. Shorewood beat McFarland in the 2019 Division 3 title match.
The incentive to break through is strong said, senior co-captain and midfielder Jake Sampson, who had a goal on a first-half penalty kick and two assists in the win over Fort Atkinson.
“Right now, all of us still hurt down deep (after the state 2019 loss),” he said. “That’s why we adopted a mentality of really playing for each other. It gives us that extra drive.”
Ogorzalek hopes his team can overcome a frustrating history in the final — as well as a few injuries sustained in the semifinal.
Some months ago, he and others whose schools opted out of the regular fall season due to COVID didn’t know if they were going to have a chance to compete. He is grateful the Spartans have this opportunity at a title.
“It feels great,” he said. “We didn’t know if we would have a tourney at all and now, here we are with another chance. Which is just amazing.”
Fort Atkinson coach Kent Lovejoy also was grateful as the Blackhawks (7-6-2) put up a competitive effort in its first trip to state. He noted McFarland, particularly the attacking duo of all-state junior forward Zach Nichols (two goals) and Sampson, presented too tall a task to overcome.
"(Nichols) is just a monster,” he said. “We had a plan to contain him but we just couldn’t sustain it. And defensively, they are so solid. They just don’t give you a lot of opportunities.”
Sampson gave McFarland the lead for good at 31 minutes, 7 seconds into play with a penalty kick, awarded as he was fouled on a strong drive into the box.
Blackhawks senior keeper Andrew Davis didn’t have a chance to make that stop. Other than that, he kept Fort in the game throughout the half with a series of sensational saves — including two rapid-fire blocks that kept the score at 1-0 heading into the break.
“Andrew played the game of his life,” Lovejoy said. “He hadn’t played keeper before this year, but he did a sensational job for us.”
But early in the second half, the Spartans picked up the pace as Sampson set up Nichols twice for point-blank goals. The first came at the 50:29 mark; the other came just 64 seconds later.
“We had a real good halftime talk,” Sampson said. “We opened up things in the second half after starting the game a little too slowly.”
At that point, the McFarland defense took over and both teams subbed liberally as seniors and underclassmen alike got to enjoy the state experience.
“We knew that Fort was a good team and they made things difficult for us in the first half,” said Ogorzalek. “We were fortunate to get that first goal (on the PK) and that allowed us to open things up.”
Notre Dame 1, Shorewood 0 (OT)
The third-seeded Tritons dominated play against the defending Division 3 state champion Greyhounds, but needed a short-side, point-blank goal from sophomore Emmett Lawton at the 96:39 mark of the first overtime to advance to the final.
Notre Dame (14-3-2) had a 13-2 advantage in corner kicks against second-seeded Shorewood (11-1), but junior keeper George Pritchard kept the Greyhounds in the game with several spectacular saves. The Tritons scored the winner after a steady build-up. The ball went to the left corner, where junior Adam Brada collected it and fed it to Lawton, who tucked it into the net.
With the win, the Tritons advanced to the title game for the first time since 2013. They are seeking their fourth WIAA state championship and first since 2008.
First half — M: Sampson (pk), 30:07.
Second half — M: Nichols (Connor), 50:29; Nichols (Sampson), 51:31.
Shots on goal: FA 2 (Calloway 1, Keelty 1); M 11 (Nichols 5, Connor 2, Turner 2, Sampson 1, Willems 1). Saves: FA (Davis 8, Encarnacion 0) 8; M (Brandemuehl 0, Schutt 2) 2. Corner kicks: FA 3; M 9. Offsides: FA 0; McF 4. Fouls: FA 12; McF 19. Yellow cards: FA 2; McF 2. Records: FA 7-6-2; M 12-0-1.