Delavan-Darien made it look effortless this season, setting state records and piling up win after win on the way to the WIAA state boys soccer tournament.
But it was far from easy Friday night.
After being frustrated for the entirety of regulation, plus the majority of overtime, the Comets broke through a determined Plymouth squad with a pair of late goals to win a Division 3 state semifinal 2-0 at Milwaukee’s Uihlein Soccer Park.
Looking for their third state championship in four years, the Comets will play Mount Horeb in the state championship, which kicks off at 7 p.m. today.
“We’re not coming here to go home right away. We don’t want to be one and done,” Delavan-Darien head coach Mike Marse said. “The thing that really impresses me with this team is they don’t ever give up. There’s teams I’ve coached that would’ve been in that game that would’ve gave up.”
The Comets scored two overtime goals to beat Catholic Memorial last Saturday to advance to state, and it took another dose of overtime magic to eliminate a pesky Plymouth (17-4-2) squad that was every bit the equal of top-ranked Delavan-Darien (25-1-3) for most of Friday’s semifinal.
In the 102nd minute, senior forward Jason Cano spearheaded a counterattack down the left sideline, dribbled around a sliding defender and snuck a shot into the right side of the net underneath the dive of Panthers keeper Gabe Thull.
It was the 50th goal of the season for Cano, who became just the 15th player in state history to score that many goals in one campaign.
“He’s done that a few times, especially from that left side,” Marse said of the tiebreaking goal. “He can get that angle. I don’t know how he does it, but that kid is good with the ball on his foot.”
Asked about the importance of his milestone, Cano said, “Yeah of course, but more importantly we came out with the win and we’re in the championship.”
Zeus Huerta roofed a left-footed shot for his state-leading 51st goal a few minutes later off an assist from Pablo Guzman Martinez, putting the Comets out of reach.
“We always have that never-give-up mentality and we’re able to overcome the defense,” Cano said. “With Zeus and Pablo, it’s just a matter of time when we’re going to score.”
Plymouth’s committed defending stymied the high-powered Comets, who entered Friday averaging 5.6 goals per game. The Panthers routinely dropped eight, and sometimes nine, players behind the ball and recorded just one shot on goal during regulation.
“We’re a group of guys that never stops fighting and going forward. We never go down, we never put our heads down, we always bring each other up. It’s just all in,” Guzman Martinez said.
The brilliant play of Thull in goal headlined a signature defensive effort by Plymouth. The Panthers had given up just 12 goals in 22 games on their way to Milwaukee and defended with discipline against Delavan-Darien’s frequent attacks.
“There were a couple of goals we should’ve had … if it was a different keeper,” Marse said.
In the 72nd minute, Huerta dropped a ball over three defenders to Guzman Martinez, but Thull came flying off his line to catch the volley attempt. And in the first overtime, Thull tipped a one-touch shot by Andres Garcia wide of the left post with a full-stretch dive.
The two sides combined for 16 fouls during a rough-and-tumble first half. Cano had a pair of good looks in the opening 10 minutes, including a point-blank effort from 6 yards that Thull deflected away with a lunging kick save.
Delavan-Darien keeper Hugo Valadez was helped in the first half by a pair of blocks from defender Martin Soto, who anchored a Delavan-Darien defense that has posted two straight clean sheets and 12 this fall.
“The biggest rap on us, from everybody else in the state, is that our defense isn’t very good—we give up too many goals,” Marse said. “These last few games they’ve really stepped up, they’ve really gelled together.”
The Comets enter tonight’s state championship with 158 goals, a state record. Delavan-Darien added No. 7 Plymouth to the list of ranked opponents the Comets have beaten during their playoff run, including No. 4 Catholic Memorial and No. 5 Shorewood.
Delavan-Darien, ranked No. 1 in Division 3 all season, has the chance tonight to put a bow on its third state championship in four years. The Comets beat Mount Horeb twice (2014 and 2016) for their recent titles.
DELAVAN-DARIEN 2, PLYMOUTH 0
Delavan-Darien 0 0 0 2—2
Plymouth 0 0 0 0—0
DD—Jason Cano, 101:29. DD—Zeus Huerta (Pablo Guzman Martinez), 105:34.
Saves—Gabe Thull (P) 7, Hugo Valadez (DD) 3. Shots—DD 20, P 12. Shots on goal—DD 9, P 3. Corner kicks—DD 5, P 4. Offsides—DD 6, P 0.