It’s well documented in soccer that the team to find the net first in a match wins more often than not. That hasn’t been the case for Wartburg over the last week.
After blowing 1-0 leads in double-overtime draws last Saturday and Monday, the 13th-ranked Knights found the net first again in the 18th minute at the Rock Bowl on Saturday night. But, disaster struck at the end of the half.
JD Perez’s free kick bounced off Wartburg’s defenders and into the net in the 41st minute to give No. 8 Loras a 2-1 lead less than five minutes after equalizing. The Duhawks (13-2-1, 6-0-0) clinched the Iowa Conference regular season championship with a 3-1 victory.
“I thought getting on the board first was going to help us out big time,” Wartburg (10-3-4, 4-1-1) head coach Kirk Artist said.
But, Loras took advantage of set pieces to stun the Knights in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Kyler Olsen collected a pass off a free kick in the 36th minute and delivered a cross that found Bryan Irwin’s head for a powerful goal into the opposite corner that tied the score at one.
Irwin’s goal came 17 minutes after Zubeen Azari put the Knights in front with an absolute rocket of a shot from well outside the box.
“We gave up way too many set pieces there at the end of the first half and the first half, in general,” Artist said.
“I think we were pretty hyped up, we were aggressive in the back and the referee was calling things really, really tight.”
The referee set things straight early on when he booked Wartburg defender Kevin Krueger for arguing a call in the third minute. Two Wartburg and five Loras players had yellow cards in the 33-foul match.
Seventeen of those fouls were on Loras. Wartburg also had four corner kicks, but couldn’t break through.
“Not being able to convert and create some stuff offensively (was big),” Artist said. “They did a good job defensively of just man-marking our guys out.”
Loras all but assured itself of a second straight championship — this time outright after tying with Wartburg and Luther last season — when Dillon Olson maneuvered through three Wartburg defenders and fired the ball into the net in the 78th minute.
The senior topped it off with a cartwheel and fist pump in front of a rowdy Loras student section.
The Duhawks held a 15-11 shots advantage.
“It’s hard to play against their style because they just kick it from their back line,” Artist said. “Anytime we try and play, it’s pretty difficult because they’re man-marking us. We have to expend a lot of energy, so I played a few extra guys today.”
Wartburg won last year’s regular season meeting, 2-1, before falling to Loras in overtime in the conference tournament championship in Dubuque.
Now 0-1-2 in its last three games, Wartburg returns home for Senior Night on Tuesday looking to wrap up the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament against last-place Buena Vista.
Saturday’s IIAC Scores
Coe 2, Buena Vista 1
Dubuque 2, Simpson 1
No. 20 Luther 3, Central 0
No. 8 Loras 3, No. 13 Wartburg 1
Buena Vista (0-6-0)