MOORHEAD — There won’t be a ticket to the state tournament up for grabs this year, but clinching the Class 2A, Section 8 title would be a pinnacle moment for Moorhead High School head boys soccer coach Ben Patrie. To him, winning the section would feel like a trophy — one the team would be happy to have.
The Spuds are one step closer after they picked up a 3-0 win over Elk River in a Class 2A, Section 8 boys soccer section quarterfinal matchup Wednesday night.
The No. 2 seed Spuds (10-0-1) and No. 7 Elk River (0-10-2) played in a blustery 25 mph north wind at Jim Gotta Stadium. Moorhead hasn’t dropped a game yet this season, and the Spuds weren’t ready to end their unbeaten streak, despite the conditions.
“There's always a little bit of pressure when you get a high seed,” Patrie said. “You know you're expected to win. I was glad that the boys rose up to that and met expectations.”
With the win — Moorhead's seventh shutout of the season — the Spuds move on to the semifinals Tuesday, Oct. 20, where they'll face the winner of the quarterfinal between No. 3 Brainerd or No. 6 Osseo. Moorhead will once again get a home-field advantage.
"It feels pretty good. Obviously you’re always looking to win, and going to the next round is amazing," senior Saif Allawi said. "In the past, we’ve lost in the first round. And last year, we didn’t really end on a positive note. This year we just have a really good group. We think we can take it all the way."
The Spuds have 16 seniors on its roster this season. They had to tap into that leadership in the back-and-forth section playoff.
"They’re a well-drilled team," Patrie said of Elk River. "We’ve played teams with I think similar amounts of quality and individual amounts of skill, but these guys were well organized. They’ve got a first year coach and he's come in and he’s done a nice job of keeping them defensively sound and compact. We didn’t find it easy right away."
Moorhead didn't get many clean looks in the first half.
The Spuds and Elks held an equal share of possession most of the first frame, with each team throwing a few counterattacks in.
"We had to adjust a little bit tactically. I told the guys they (Elk River) would be defensively sound. They were really compact in their midfield," Patrie said. "We needed to play a little bit faster around the corners. We found the space that they left us, and we opened them up."
After 36 scoreless minutes, Moorhead lit up the scoreboard first on a free kick that trickled in. Jibriel Gedo finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play in front of the opposing net and was able to sneak the ball past Elk River goalie Raymond Sizen.
The Elks tested the Spuds a few times, but nothing got past Moorhead goalkeeper Jacob Hendrickson.
The Spuds found themselves in rare territory with the narrow first-half lead. Moorhead has outscored opponents 25-2 in the first half entering the tournament.
"It was different for us. Obviously when we get in, we come out hard," Allawi said. "But this game, I think we came out slow. But towards the second half, we talked. We told each other what we were doing wrong and we just came out and did our thing."
Allawi pushed Moorhead's lead to 2-0 just under 12 minutes into the second frame. He cut in from the right and fired a bullet from about 10 yards out that landed in the back of the net.
With their season on the line, the Elks moved on the attack in the final minutes of the game, but it wasn't enough. Gedo locked up the quarterfinal win with just under three minutes to go with his second score of the night.
"I’m really happy with the team. We performed well today. We played as a team together, pressing," Gedo said. "We were ready to win. We just have to get ready for the next game."