We had a few gusts in our favor. If you can get one or two goals in the first half, it has a psychological effect. —Waterford coach George Shirley

SANDY — The Waterford and Merit Academy boys soccer players admitted they had a lot of respect for each other coming into their 2A playoff game Saturday afternoon.

But they had even more respect for Mother Nature, who was delivering a warm, gusty south wind most of the day. Waterford won the pregame coin toss and took advantage of the conditions to deliver a 4-1 defeat to Merit and advance to the semifinals next week.

Sean Keough scored three times and Tristan Broadbent added another as Waterford won on its immaculate home field. Keough had all of his goals in the first half as Waterford constantly pressured Merit goalkeeper Rodolfo Peralta.

“We had a few gusts in our favor,” said Waterford coach George Shirley, noting that the outcome of the coin toss had a major impact on the game. “If you can get one or two goals in the first half, it has a psychological effect.”

Keough made that impact seem even bigger.

With a 3-0 halftime lead, Waterford felt comfortable for much of the day, while Merit was clearly frustrated. When Broadbent scored on a rebound early in the second half, it proved the wind was not the only factor — and it delivered the clinching blow.

The fact that Shirley counted at least five Waterford shots that hit the crossbar and bounced away didn’t have an impact.

“With the wind the way it was, we wanted to have an even bigger lead,” Shirley said. “We told the kids at half that they had to play like it was 0-0 because we knew Merit would gets its chances.”

The Knights finally got on the scoreboard about eight minutes later when Hootie Hennessy, the team’s leading scorer, exploded past a couple of Waterford defenders to rebound a missed shot. He slipped the ball past Waterford 'keeper Ross Merrill, who was going for his 10th shutout in the team’s 16 games.

Waterford’s passing ability, however, prevented much of a momentum shift. The Ravens controlled the ball much of the time and continued to pressure the goal — albeit without scoring.

“We had a game plan to put five defenders on the field in the first half and make them (the Ravens) think they weren’t going to score,” said Merit coach Joel Martinez. “But they snuck a couple in there. When it’s windy, you want to keep your passes on the grass and they did that.

“That’s a good team we played, but I’m still happy how we did in only our second year.”

Bruce Smith grew up in Boise, Idaho, and is a longtime newspaper sports writer. He writes primarily high-school sports articles for the Deseret News.