The inaugural home season for the Casper College men’s soccer team came to a disappointing end Monday when Otero Junior College upset the No. 7 Thunderbirds 3-0 at Murane Field in Casper.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Casper College head coach Ben McArthur said after the game. “No excuses. Otero came to play today and they took it to us.”
With temperatures in the mid-60s, and wind gusts nearly early equaling that, the T-Birds’ (11-2) offensive attack was out of sync the majority of the opening half. The wind was a factor for both teams throughout the game as goal kicks often flew out of bounds and crossing passes to the front of the net frequently sailed well past the frame without being touched.
“No doubt the balls ran long for us in the first half,” McArthur said. “And in a game like this you’re going to get punished for that.”
Playing into the wind to begin the game, Otero took advantage of Casper College miscues in the midfield and turned them into scoring chances in the offensive third. In the 10th minute, the Rattlers’ Pape Souleymane won a 50-50 ball near midfield and dribbled down the left wing before flicking a pass into the box. Despite cries for a foul and a handball from the Otero bench, the center official instructed both teams to play on and the T-Birds were able to clear the zone.
They weren’t as fortunate four minutes later. Otero’s Paul Nitsch kept the ball alive near the end line with a back-heel pass to himself before sliding a shot across the goal and into the net past Casper College goalkeeper Konnor Macy.
The T-Birds’ best first-half scoring chance came in the 22nd minute when Jesper Van Halderen blasted a free kick from 30 yards out that the Otero keeper stopped, but he was unable to secure the ball. The T-Birds’ Keita Chochi was there for the rebound, but his shot sailed wide of the net.
Macy, who finished with seven saves, kept the Rattlers (8-3-1) from doubling the lead in the 23rd minute with a save right at the goal line on Lamario Nisbeth’s header from close range.
Things got worse for the T-Birds just before the half when leading scorer Jesper Van Halderen pulled a quad while trying to keep a ball inbounds. And in the second half Casper College forward Joey Antonovich got tangled with an Otero defender while going for a loose ball. Both players went down, but Antonovich immediately jumped to his feet and began running to the sidelines in obvious pain, his right arm obviously broken.
“Losing those guys was tough,” McArthur said. “Our guys played hard and they’re obviously disappointed, but I don’t want to take anything away from Otero.”
Playing for a chance to advance to Tuesday’s Region IX championship game and an automatic bid to the National Junior College Athletics Association Division I Championships next month, the game was physical from the opening whistle. Both teams committed 12 fouls and one player from each team received a yellow card.
The T-Birds appeared to have a chance at an equalizer early in the second half as they pushed forward with numbers. But rather than firing one toward goal, the T-Birds hesitated and Otero took control without allowing a shot. The Rattlers quickly took advantage with a through ball finding forward Lamario Nisbeth, whose left-footed blast from 20 yards out pushed their advantage to 2-0 in the 47th minute.
“That was a game-changing sequence,” McArthur admitted. “In the span of 30 seconds we went from possibly tying the game to being down 2-0. That was momentum-shifting.”
Casper College controlled possession for most of the remaining 40 minutes, but with a two-goal lead Otero was content to sit back on defense and avoid making mistakes.
Otero’s Tiago Cordeiro put the finishing touches on the win in the 85th minute when he beat a defender in a one-on-one situation and fired a low liner into the back of the net past a diving Macy.
“This is a tough one to take,” McArthur said. “We had a chance to host the Region IX championship game on our home field and now we have to wait and see if we our season is over or if we get a chance to keep playing.”
Otero will face the winner of Monday’s late semifinal game between Laramie County Community College and Trinidad State Junior College in Tuesday’s championship game. The T-Birds, meanwhile, have to wait until Wednesday to find out if they receive one of four at-large bids to the NJCAA Championships.
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN