SALT LAKE CITY — It has been a long week for the Highland boys soccer team.
Last Tuesday, a mid-game fight — that landed one Clearfield player in the hospital with a concussion — caused the Rams to lose their overtime match against the Falcons after multiple players had been ejected, and sent the team straight to the middle of a heated conversation about the state of boys high school soccer.
Exactly one week later, the Salt Lake City school suffered a double-overtime loss, this time a 1-0 defeat to crosstown rival and top-ranked East, while still reeling with the aftermath of the team’s actions.
“With the punishment that we received, with the community service, our team really came together,” said Highland coach Derek Dunn, referencing the moves made by Highland principal Paul Schulte to discipline the program. Schulte suspended multiple players as well as the team’s head coach while also requiring the Rams to perform community service in lieu of practice.
“I think not having practice and things like that, just that little break,” Dunn said, “that togetherness was beautiful for us.”
In response, the team took its home field against the Leopards with a renewed focus. The Rams took East to a second overtime and nearly ended the game in a tie until the Leopards found the net with under a minute to go.
The scoring sequence began with a Highland free kick, which was deflected and controlled by sophomore Hugo Olivera. Olivera drove the ball to the other end of the field before being taken down, leading to an East free kick.
“We got the free kick and then it was just a melee,” East coach Rudy Schenk said of the play that led to senior defender Bernabe Cortez’s game-winner. “This weather, with the wetness of the field and everything, the ball bounces crazy, skipping around and doing crazy things in there.”
The Leopards’ defensive effort was anchored by junior goalkeeper Jack Thompson, who Schenk said had his best game so far.
“He made a couple of nice saves, a couple of good decisions, laid himself out there,” the East coach said. “I think in the first half he made one mistake and that was about it.”
Prior to the game, Schenk and his team discussed what had happened between Clearfield and Highland the week before, and they talked about how they wanted to handle it. The conversation, however, was not all that different from their regular pregame meeting.
“Keeping composure: We talked about it a lot (before the game) and we talk about it all the time,” Schenk said. “If you look at my keys to the game, the No. 1 thing I wrote down was composure. These guys, on the field they hate each other, but off the field, a lot of them are friends and play for the same club teams. We wanted to keep our composure and I thought that was important.”
That was especially crucial in a rivalry game. The Leopards knew that, in spite of the rocky week, Highland was going to step onto the field ready to play.
“It’s East-Highland,” Schenk said. “I told my guys before the game, ‘It doesn’t matter. They’re going to come hard. They’re going to give us their best shot,’ and they did. I told (Highland) captain, Matt (Warne) they should be proud of themselves because they really did play with heart.”
The win pushed the Leopards to 6-0 in Region 6 play and 8-0 overall, while Highland fell to 1-4-1 in region matches and 2-4-1 for the season. The Rams, however, still have larger issues on their minds.
“Coming out today in a big game like this, we’ve just got to keep our heads,” Dunn said. “We have a lot of people watching us and we’re here to show that we belong on the field, that we’re not bullies.”
He then added: “After the game, you saw everyone out here hugging and shaking each other's hands, and that’s the beautiful part of it.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.