Angry Wildcats respond, beat Central with late goal

Noah Nelson of Fruita tries to head a shot into the goal Monday night against Central. The Wildcats won the game, 2-1.

In 12 years of coaching high school soccer, Fruita Monument High School coach Dan McKee had never received a yellow card. But when saw the referee signal for a penalty shot on what, to him, looked like a clean tackle to help preserve a 1-0 lead, he lost his cool.

Cory Odom had challenged a Central High School striker in the box with less than six minutes in the game, and the play drew a whistle. Odom slammed his hands on the turf and yelled, eventually drawing a yellow card. The Fruita bench objected further, drawing cards for each of the coaches.

“I think it was a ridiculous call,” McKee said. “I think he had complete possession. He had the ball trapped up. I’ve never seen such a bad call. You know, it is what it is, and sometimes you have to battle the referees as a twelfth player.”

Central midfielder Matthew Miller buried the penalty kick in the top-right corner, but four yellows cards motivated the Fruita offense.

“When they see three coaches get yellow cards, it fired them up,” McKee said. “If you want to give me a yellow, that’s fine.”

Fruita responded quickly in what had been a mostly defensive struggle. Noah Nelson centered a picture-perfect through ball to a wide-open Wesley Padgett, who broke away and placed a shot in the lower left corner to seal the Wildcats’ 2-1 win over Central at Walker Field on Monday night.

Fruita pushed the pace offensively, winning the shots-on-goal battle 10-2, but the Central defense was staunch despite missing key pieces.

Jesse Lopez had to step in with Central’s starting goalkeeper out for personal reasons. Normally a left wing, Lopez notched eight saves, including a series at the end of the first half that kept Central in the game. First, Lopez stuffed a solo breakaway, and then went full stretch to push a ball past the left post.

On the last play of the half, he scooped a ball off the goal line after running out to attempt a save.

“I mean I haven’t played goalie for years,” Lopez said. “But my team had my back even though I made some mistakes, and you know, we will come out next time.”

Central also lost defender Isaac Sikes in the 28th minute, when he exited the game with an upper leg injury after getting tangled up with a Fruita winger. This left Lopez with a patchwork defense in front of him, and after the match, Lopez fell to the turf, before his entire team huddled around him, patting him on the back.

“Our whole defense had to be reconstructed,” Central coach Doug Beach said. “(Lopez) made some awesome saves. Matter of fact, I gave him man of the match. To go out there and do the things he does and to step up like that when he normally plays on the wing, (he) just nailed it. It was the defense that fell apart, it wasn’t his fault.”

Fruita tilted the field in its direction for most of the game, using wing pressure and poor handling by the Warriors’ outside backs to keep the ball around their net. The Wildcats picked apart the Central defense by using through balls, a tactic Montrose effectively used to top the Wildcats 4-2.

“Montrose scored three goals on us in exactly that way,” McKee said. “We have talent on the wings, so that was one of our focuses on offense coming into this game.”


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