The Section 7A semifinal didn’t start, or end, how the Magic wanted it to.
In between, it was some kind of battle.
Hosting Hermantown on a rain-soaked field on a chilly and dreary day, Monticello played nearly 90 percent of Tuesday evening’s game down a man, and ended the game down a goal.
Hermantown ended Monticello’s season, handing the Magic a 2-1 defeat.
“It stings, but not as bad as it could have,” said Coach Chad Carlson. “When you have a team that goes out fighting all the way through, playing a man down, playing with that much desire and heart, I couldn’t be more proud.”
Things took a bleak turn early for Monticello. With Hermantown controlling play, the Hawks got a great scoring opportunity just nine minutes in.
A corner kick was beautifully placed in front of the net, where a Hermantown player went up and headed it toward the corner of the Magic goal.
A Magic player reacted by putting his hand up to stop the ball, which, in the goal area, warrants a “hard red card”, meaning the Hawks were not only granted a penalty kick, but that the Magic player was ejected. Monticello would play the remaining 71 minutes with one less man on the field.
It was a big momentum swing for the Hawks, but it could have been bigger.
On the penalty kick, the shooter went low and to his right. Magic goaltender Tanner Fischer guessed right. Fischer went low, and to his left, diving in front of the ball to make the save, keeping the score tied at 0.
Now playing a man down, Monticello made some minor adjustments.
“We changed the formation a little,” said Carlson. “Told the boys nothing else changes. It was just mainly getting them to settle in.”
That took a few minutes. The Hawks continued to control play deep into the first half, until they finally got on the board.
With 17 minutes left in the half, Monticello was called for another penalty in the box, tripping, and Hermantown was awarded another penalty kick.
This time they took advantage. The kick went low left and found the back of the net, giving the visiting sixth-seed a 1-0 lead.
Monticello had a couple opportunities during the remainder of the half, but for the most part Fischer was kept busy turning away Hawks opportunities to keep Monticello within 1 at the half.
“He was unbelievable,” said Carlson. “That’s the best game I’ve seen him play yet. Just absolutely stellar. Good hands, good decision making. He took command back there.”
In the second half, Monticello seemed to come out with a newfound aggressiveness. The Magic pushed the ball to their side of the pitch numerous times in the opening minutes, making it clear that they were looking to generate better second half chances.
But, just over five minutes in, Monticello got caught on the counter attack. A nice individual effort by a Hermantown player resulted in several missed tackles, and eventually, a goal.
With 34 minutes left the second seed trailed, 2-0.
The Magic maintained their aggressiveness, never appearing to lose faith.
Carlson said his team executed their game plan in the second half.
“We played to feet, pressured the back defenders and made them play our game,” said Carlson.
At the midway point of the half, that paid off.
After a Brody Grantz shot from far out had to be tipped out by the goaltender, Monticello was awarded a corner kick.
Grantz took it, and placed it toward the back side of the net.
Zach Beaumaster, who generated Monticello’s best chances throughout the game, was there.
Beaumaster buried the ball in the back of the net, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Unfortunately for the Magic, they would get no closer.
But while the season ended earlier than they would’ve liked, Carlson said it was hard to be upset with how it ended.
“It was a beautiful game to watch,” he said. “No matter the outcome.”
Monticello advanced to the section semifinal on the strength of a 12-0 win over North Lakes in the opening round, followed by a 1-0 victory over Eveleth-Gilbert in the quarterfinals.
In the opening round, Monticello was able to sit their starters down midway through the first half, allowing everyone to get in on the action.
“Everybody got goals,” said Carlson. “It wasn’t just one player taking over, it was multiple players.”
In the quarterfinals, the Golden Bears applied a defensive strategy against the Magic.
“They packed 8 or 9 guys in an 18-yard box,” said Carlson.
After a scoreless first half, Monticello got more aggressive about getting the ball on net in the second half. It paid off when the Magic caught the Bears in transition and Beaumaster found the back of the net for the game’s lone goal.
In each opening round game, Monticello allowed just one shot on goal.
The Magic, who saw an eight-game unbeaten streak end Tuesday, finished the season with a record of 11-5-3.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com