After what will surely go down as one of the more unpredictable upsets in its postseason history, the Yavapai College men's soccer team for a third consecutive season will miss out on the national tournament.
The Roughriders were stunned in a 4-2 upset by Northwest (Wyo.) College Friday afternoon in Rock Springs, Wyo., in the opening round of the West District Playoffs. As a result, the Trappers - and not the seven-time national champions - will advance to this month's NJCAA Tournament in Albany, Ga.
"Really the No. 1 factor in our defeat today was Northwest College," Yavapai College head coach and NJCAA Soccer Hall of Famer Mike Pantalione said Friday from Wyoming. "Give them credit. They out-worked us from start to finish, and the better team today won."
On paper, before and after the game, the matchup clearly favored the nation's No. 3-ranked Roughriders.
Coming in, the Trappers, 22 freshmen strong, hadn't appeared on the national poll throughout the regular season. The team's six losses were more than YC had suffered in the past two seasons combined. And, just this week, Northwest head coach Rob Hill, who started the program only three years ago, wasn't even aware that his own club had qualified for the playoffs, and was making arrangements to pack up the program's gear for the season.
In the match itself, played on the campus of Western Wyoming College, the Roughriders got out to a 1-0 lead on a goal in the fifth minute by Kyle Morris. Yavapai led the overall stat sheet in shots on goal (20-15) and corner kicks (9-3).
But three second-half goals from the Trappers changed all that.
"We had 11 players on the field at all times that were working and were committed to their jobs and to winning their personal battles, and that was the key today," Hill said from Wyoming afterward. "I felt like in all the positions that we had the guys in, they worked extremely hard, they were very competitive and they never quit. It's a credit to them and their attitudes and their work ethic, which is something I haven't seen all season. But we're kind of a team that rises to the occasion."
The Trappers defeated Western Wyoming in Saturday's District championship. Western Wyoming, the Region 9 champion, also qualified for nationals.
Northwest rallied from its early deficit with a goal from freshman defender Marcus Couldridge (Casper, Wyo.) in the 44th minute to knot the match at 1-1 by halftime.
The Trappers' Jamie McMorrow lifted the Wyoming side to its first lead with his goal in the 52nd minute. Yavapai's Matt Paine connected on an unassisted goal just one minute later, as the back-and-forth match was tied again.
Northwest answered once more, this time on a goal from freshman Gage Woodward (Bountiful, Utah) in the 69th minute. His goal was helped by a third consecutive assist in the match by the Trappers' sophomore Dean Johnson (London, England).
Northwest added an insurance goal in the 80th minute when Johnson connected.
"What opportunities they had, they capitalized on," Pantalione said. "We had more shot attempts and more corner kicks and it seemed like the ball was on our attacking end the majority of the match. But when they won the ball and it came on our end, they certainly took advantage of their scoring opportunities."
After three straight years of missing out on the national tournament, the Roughriders will have to wait until next season to chase their eighth national championship since 1990.
Yavapai finished the year 21-3, and scored 101 goals while limiting opponents to 19. This year's sophomore class consisting of co-captains Sam Cusack and Carlos Lara, goalkeepers Danny Sellitti and Augustin Rey, as well as Julien Dragomir, Frankie Halley, Eddie Jasso, Morris, Rysen Barnett and Joey Lutostanski compiled a two-year record of 40-4-3.
"Quality young men, all 10 of them," noted Pantalione. "They exemplified the standards of the program throughout their tenure."
For the Trappers, meanwhile, their journey is just beginning.
"We'll look at the brackets and who we'll be playing, and based on who we're playing we'll make a game plan from that," Hill said.
Hill laughed out loud at the idea of other teams in turn now scouting his underdog Trappers.
"Little Powell, Wyoming, is not exactly a soccer metropolis in terms of the youth programs and all that kind of stuff," he said. "We definitely made an impact today."
Friday's match was the first time Northwest and Yavapai had ever met as opponents.
"They really gave us a game," Hill said of the Roughriders. "Mike and (associate coach) Hugh (Bell) - two very, very classy individuals. Credit to their program. All their guys were. All credit to them. They had an amazing season."
The national tournament runs Nov. 12-17 in Albany, Ga. Next year's national tournament shifts to Tyler, Texas, and in 2014 the NJCAA men's soccer national tournament, for the first time ever, takes place in Prescott.
Yavapai College invites the public to a congratulatory celebration for both the soccer and volleyball teams at 11:30 a.m., Friday, Nov. 9, in the gym lobby of Building 2, Prescott campus.