DES MOINES — Iowa City Regina midfielder Emilio Tovar nearly turned his head and ran back on defense.
The Clear Lake goalkeeper appeared to be have executed a key save.
Then Tovar remembered his orders: “Always follow the ball.”
So he did, noticing a bobble. One poke and boot to the back of the net later left the versatile junior waving his arms for crowd noise after he scored what proved to be the match-winner in Friday’s 2-1 Class 1A state boys’ soccer tournament semifinal win over Clear Lake.
“That’s what we’ve been working on all year,” said Tovar, whose team seeks a repeat title in today’s final against Mid-Prairie. “We’ve been working on always following the ball to the goal and making sure we never give up on a play. That was what I tried to do there.”
Tried and succeeded.
Tovar’s unlikely goal with 10:26 left capped a 2-0 second half for the Regals (15-3), who endured a largely uneven initial 40 minutes.
Regina Coach Rick Larew — whose team hopes to attain its fifth state crown in six years — said he felt his players possessed the ball well and connected on passes the first 10-15 minutes. Then the Lions (16-4) seized control, taking a 1-0 lead on Antonio DiMarco’s cross-net goal 14:15 into the match.
“Somehow, something ticked and we sort of lost confidence in ourselves and we quit possessing the ball and connecting passes,” Larew said. “They’re a very talented team. That (DiMarco), he’s terrific and (Clear Lake forward Ernest Miszewski)? Boy, they’re dynamite players and they started running roughshod over us.”
Not for long — especially after the Regals regained focus at halftime. Junior Nic Ziniel drove through the equalizer 4:20 into the second half and momentum continued to shift toward the defending state champs.
“We knew we had to get something to spark us, to pick us up,” Ziniel said.
He scored on the rebound, as is often the case.
“My job is the garbage — I’m supposed to pick up anything that comes out, the loose stuff,” Ziniel said. “I took a touch and saw the corner, so I hit to the corner.”
In essence, he did his job, just as Tovar did.
“Emilio did just what we talked about,” Larew said. “‘Follow the ball in, give him a chance to make a mistake. Give him a chance — and he did, he was there. Too bad for them and good for us.”
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