By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
CLINTON — As the game went on, Coach Matt Hagge could see his Clinton boys soccer team coming together. Unfortunately for the River Kings, time ran out too soon.
Maquoketa held on after building a 2-0 lead, withstanding a late goal by Clinton’s Jakob Schmidt for a 2-1 victory in the season-opening match for both teams.
“As the halves went on, in the second half we kind of dominated possession but we didn’t get enough shots on goal,” Hagge said. “It was more fluid, especially in the second half. We had a sense of urgency, and we kind of attacked the ball; it was in their end most of the half.”
It also was a close game because of the goalkeepers. Clinton’s Dawson Sally, a Camanche High student, and Maquoketa’s Buchanan Waller each came up with big saves.
After Clinton’s Daniel Stewart made a nice move against the defense, Waller preserved his shutout late in the second half with a diving save, deflecting the ball out of bounds.
“That was a beautiful save by that keeper,” Hagge said.
But it set up a corner kick from the left side for Clinton, and Dakota Michels’ kick cleared the first wave of players and pretty much stopped in front of Schmidt, who drilled it into the goal to cut the deficit to 2-1 with 5 minutes, 58 seconds remaining.
“What we did in practice was we had a corner kick setup, and we just kept practicing it, then I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Schmidt, who also scored in the junior varsity contest.
“Getting one goal just means we have to try harder to keep getting them,” he added. “We were down by one after I scored, and we just kept pulling through and wanted to keep going. Unfortunately we didn’t get it.”
Led by Joey Lyon, Maquoketa did a good job of clock management the rest of the way to deny the River Kings the opportunity to tie it. Most of the final five minutes was played in the Clinton defensive end, and twice Lyon kicked the ball off Clinton defenders to set up corner kicks. He also put a rebound shot over the goal after Sally leaped and slapped away the first of three corner kicks by Sam Fowler in the final 3:45.
“Joey Lyon played very well,” Maquoketa Coach Ben Kober said. “We asked him to step back to our center-midfield after our center-midfielder and MVP from last year (Drew Hare) went down with what looked like some kind of strain in the leg. Joey stepped up big and really played hard defensively, and offensively he was still getting involved.”
Sally impressed both coaches with his play in net.
“I was really impressed with Clinton’s goalkeeper,” Kober said. “He had a lot of good saves. To be fair to us and him, he kept them in the game in terms of there’s a first-half save that could have been 1-nothing a lot earlier than it was.”
Sally also kept the game at 1-0 when he denied Lyon from point-blank range early in the second half.
“I had Dawson down for six saves, and four of them were high-quality ones,” Hagge said. “Even the goal, he picked the right side and got a hand on it, it just had a little too much oomph. He did a good job.”
He was speaking of Maquoketa’s first goal, when Visar Ajroja got ahead of the defense as he chased down a long lead from Brian Specht for a one-on-one opportunity against Sally. Sally made a diving attempt and got a hand on the ball, but it still managed to find the net just inside the left front side with 13:18 left in the first half.
“He’s not one of our faster guys, but he’s very skilled on the ball,” Kober said of Ajroja. “That was just a ball played through. I think Clinton, their defense was a little more spread out (and that) allowed that to happen, but it was a good finish.”
Ajroja assisted on the the Cardinals’ second goal with 26:20 left in the second half. Skyler Bronson got the ball well to the left of the goal and about 10 yards from the goal line, and he put a sharp-angle shot past Sally.
“I had a pretty good pass from my teammate,” Bronson said. “I did the easy part.”
Schmidt said being down 2-0 affected the Kings in different ways.
“It definitely brings the morale down, but I think everybody wants to get it even more after they’re down by two,” he said.
“It relieved some pressure,” Kober said of going up 2-0. “With a 2-nothing lead you can stand a mistake, and that’s how a lot of goals are scored at this level is just mistakes at the defense or you’re not marking. The mistake kind of happened on the goal that Clinton got, but we were able to withstand that. “
Despite the opening loss, Hagge said he liked the makeup of this year’s River Kings.
“We’ve got a huge incoming freshman class; we had 22 guys,” he said. “We have 52 on our roster, the most we’ve ever had. For the first time in history Clinton High almost had to cut players. We’ve got a huge, dedicated crew. Everybody came back from last year. We only have three seniors.
“This could be our breakout year; I think this could be our best season. We needed that win today, but it’s a learning experience. We’re going to get better. We’re pretty deep at every position, which is a nice thing. I was able to get a lot of subs in there and you didn’t notice much difference in the play because we’re so deep.”
Clinton has just one day off before returning to action. The Kings host their annual tournament Saturday. They open against Central DeWitt, while Davenport Assumption plays Marquette Catholic in the other game.
MAQUOKETA 2, CLINTON 1
Maquoketa 1 1 — 1
Clinton 0 1 — 1
M — Visar Ajroja (Brian Specht), 26:42
M — Skyler Bronson (Ajroja), 53:40
C — Jakob Schmidt (Dakota Michels), 74:02
Shots — Clinton 12. Goalkeepers — Maquoketa (Buchanan Waller 80 minutes-1 goal); Clinton (Dawson Salley 80:00-2, 6 saves). Yellow card — Lucas Brame (M) 46:13.
Junior varsity — Maquoketa 3, Clinton 2.