With state tournament assignments coming up next week and two games against ranked opponents, plus a home invitational tournament on Saturday, the No. 13 Class 3A boys soccer team at Muscatine High School saw this week as an opportunity to make a statement.
Two goals within about two minutes was enough to keep the Muskies undefeated in the Mississippi Athletic Conference game.
With hits from freshman Drew Kurriger and junior forward Jonathon Joseph, the Muskies advanced to 7-0 in the MAC game (9-3 overall) with a 2-1 win over the No. 12 (3A) Bettendorf Bulldogs at the Muscatine on Thursday night football complex.
Joseph’s goal came after Junior Reece Eberhard landed a corner kick just in front of Bettendorf’s goal. After ricocheting off a few heads, Joseph waited there, ready to deliver an overhead jab that was as powerful as it was accurate into the back net in the top right corner to give Muscatine a 2-0 lead in the 18th minute.
“It was just instinct,” Joseph said. “I saw the (Bettendorf player) drop it and I was in the right position to hit it and it went in. It was that easy.
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“This win means a lot. It’s the second year in a row that we’ve beaten them. We’re not scared. We want to surprise people and not settle for wins against bad teams.”
Minutes earlier, Kurriger gained possession after it was revealed a Bulldog defender tried to clear a Muscatine throw-in only to smash it straight to Kurriger, who finished the rest and a kick from the right side of the zone into the top right corner drifted of the goal.
“Our approach was to put them under pressure,” said midfielder Eberhard. We didn’t want them to get comfortable and we wanted to push from behind and make them make mistakes. And Johnny and Drew came through with their options. The back line is huge. They performed. We had a newcomer (Alex Padilla) come in and he’s improved a lot.”
Bettendorf’s only goal came in the 38th minute, when sophomore Chase Wakefield beat Muscatine goaltender Logan Wolf with a penalty kick after a foul by Muskie in the box.
Wolf guessed the wrong direction on the PK but was otherwise consistently great, making several acrobatic saves and batting away other Bulldog goal attempts.
“It’s always a good, tough game against Bettendorf,” said Muscatine head coach Jose Varela. “They are a strong team. We beat them last year and this week was very important for our group so hopefully this will be a clear win for us.”
Although there were no points after half-time, each side had chances to increase their overall scores.
Aside from the Wakefield goal, Bett’s best opportunities came from other set pieces or when the Bulldogs could create space down the wing to set up a cross pass into the middle of the field.
The Bulldogs pressured the Muskies but Wolf, who made 10 saves, and the MHS back end held up.
“(Senior defender) Grant Bode wasn’t feeling well today,” Varela said. “So I reminded him about Michael Jordan’s flu game and told him this is his time to shine. He came through for us. He played outstandingly for us and the whole defense did a great job. The team played so well as a team. We’re happy with it and I’m so proud of it.
“We know we have tough games ahead of us. We kind of did it in MAC and maybe it doesn’t look like the teams are doing as well as some in weaker conferences. So it’s tough, but it’s always great to get a (conference) win.”
While each side had dalliances with gripping momentum, much of the game was played in midfield and resembled a stalemate. That was fine for Muscatine, however, as long as the lead was on his side.
With the win, Muscatine (9-3, 7-0 MAC) remains one of two teams within the MAC with perfect conference records. Pleasant Valley, third in 3A, is the other. On Thursday, the Spartans kept pace with the Muskies’ MAC mark in an 8-2 win over Davenport North.
Against Bettendorf, the Muskies’ midfield played well despite being without senior captain Miles Melendez. And the defense continues its strong game this season as MHS have only conceded two goals in their last four games.
“With Miles Down, we knew we had to adapt,” said Eberhard. “We didn’t come down. We didn’t let up in training. We went into this game with 100% commitment and didn’t let us down, especially on the defensive.”
Muscatine will return to the MAC game Monday with a home game against Davenport North.
“At the end of the day, we want to win as many games as possible,” Joseph said. “If that makes us MAC champions, I’m fine with that. I want to win. Winning the MAC and getting to the top of the state are our main goals.”
Muskatin 2, Bettendorf 1
Halftime – Muscatine 2, Bettendorf 1st Goals – MUS Drew Kurriger (unassisted) 16th minute; MUS Jonathon Joseph (Assist by Reece Eberhard) 18 minutes; BETT Chase Wakefield (unaided) 38th minute. Shots – MUS 18, bed 20. Saves – MUS (Logan Wolf) 10; BETT (JJ Gonzalez-Hayes) 8. Offside – MUS 2; BED 1. Corners – MUS 3; BED 5. Fouls – MUS 11, BED 9. Cards – MUS (Elijah Leza) yellow.
Records: Muscatine 8-3, 7-0 MAC: BED 10-5, 5-2 MAC