SANDY — A resilient Grand Red Devils soccer squad stayed undefeated to advance to the boys' 2A state championship for the second straight year with a 2-1 win over the St. Joseph Jayhawks on Friday.
The Red Devils needed two second-half goals to fend off the youthful Jayhawks, who start six freshmen.
Both teams started out incredibly loose on defense, and Grand had at least six really good looks at the goal in the first half that it couldn't convert. St. Joseph freshman goalie Mitch Koehler made several stellar saves, but the Red Devils also hurt their chances by continuously making one pass or one dribble too many.
"They were just hurrying themselves and tried to play everything fast," Grand head coach Mike Camps said.
On the Jayhawks' end, St. Joseph's Dino Soto had two open attempts miss the goal entirely before he finally got one to find the back of the net in the 34th minute. Soto beat the Grand defense on a long pass and put the ball in the net over diving Red Devils' goalkeeper Joseph Hawks.
Grand's Daren Nkomo had three strong shots turned away by Koehler in the first half, including two turnaround attempts around St. Joseph defenders that Koehler somehow found but got his revenge on a perfectly placed penalty kick in the 63rd minute to tie the game at 1-1.
"We really needed that goal, and I was glad I could be the one to put it in," Nkomo said.
"I've seen Daren take penalty shots that professionals can't make," Camps said.
Grand controlled the ball a great deal more than St. Joseph to start the second half, but the Jayhawks began to press offensively after Grand tied the game. The Red Devils' defense tightened up significantly in the second half, however, and eliminated any Jayhawk chances.
"Oh, man, that was amazing. I figured that's where the ball would be because that's where he'd been putting it," Saunders said. "It's an indescribable feeling."
Grand will face Waterford in the 2A state championship game at Rio Tinto Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Red Devils fell to Rowland Hall in the championship game last year.
"Now that we know how it goes, we hope we can take it this year," Saunders said.