DES MOINES — A high temperature and a scoreless game late into the second half had Cedar Rapids Xavier and Norwalk players dragging Friday.
This Class 2A state soccer semifinal was destined to limp into overtime or be seized by one team on a mistake. Norwalk seized the day.
Junior midfielder Sam Steenhoek floated a cross to freshman Kason Crall who headed it into the Saints’ net on a sharp angle for the winning goal with just 9 minutes, 38 seconds to play.
“One of our best players, our captain played a great ball across,” Crall said. “I was right there and got a head on it. I was in a good spot, tried to get a head on it and tried to put it in the corner. I did what I had to do.
“I got the shivers; it was great.”
Norwalk, which has finished second in two of the last three seasons, will have a chance to win that elusive 2A crown today against Perry. Xavier (10-10) will play in the third-place game at 1:40 p.m. against Waverly-Shell Rock.
“Ultimately, in the state tournament it’s who wants it more,” Xavier Coach Amir Hadzic said. “And I think (the Warriors) came out in the second half with a purpose to win it. Maybe they wanted it more than we did.
“Our guys gave their all. We need to move on and play for third place tomorrow.”
Two missed opportunities in the first half could have haunted the Warriors. In the 24th minute a penalty was called on Xavier, apparently because the keeper picked up a ball kicked to him by a teammate, and Norwalk immediately set the ball for play close to the Saints’ goal. Xavier keeper Nick Huss was out of position, and there were no defenders in front of the shooter, but he drove it wide of the open net.
Then Huss saved a penalty kick in the 28th minute that was the result of his collision with Norwalk forward Keegan Leaper just inside the box. Steenhoek stepped up to take the kick, but Huss lunged to his left and blocked it.
“We watched them a little bit yesterday do PKs, and we asked Nick to go in the lower left because that’s where No. 11 (Steenhoek) shot yesterday,” Hadzic said.
“That was a big momentum shifter,” Xavier senior Caelen Lilly said.
The Saints headed to halftime thinking they’d dodged a dagger or two.
“We wanted to play the same and everyone just try to play our heart out,” Lilly said of the approach to the second half.
Hadzic said he moved two players up top after halftime to try to jump start the offense, a strategy that worked in the quarterfinal.
“But that didn’t produce as much as yesterday,” he said. “We just didn’t have enough energy today to get over the hump. The second half we just didn’t generate enough offense. We had some chances but really nothing like yesterday.”
Conditions were difficult because of the heat and the nature of the grinding style of play.
“It was really hot, and we were dehydrated,” Lilly said. “It really took a lot out of you.”
What he didn’t mention was the rash of injuries that decimated the Saints’ back line. The team lost Mason Hoxie against Dubuque Wahlert. Derek Jacoby played with a high ankle sprain the whole tournament. Another defender, Stephen Jones, was injured in the first half.
Like Xavier, Norwalk (14-6) plays a schedule loaded with 3A teams, so its record isn’t gaudy. In fact, all six of the Warriors’ losses were to 3A opponents.