Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa entered the Class A State Boys Soccer semifinals having surrendered just two goals in a nine-match streak dating back to Sept. 30, which included eight shutouts.
The Wildcats, like Southwest Christian, playing in their first state tournament, had yet to lose on the season, a 17-0-2 record.
So when the Stars were held off the board over the first 40 minutes Nov. 3, and found the offensive zone suffocating, they knew they were in for a challenging second half.
"When we're playing nervous, we dribble a lot. Jake (Bettin) and Jack (Boike), they always had two guys to get around, so we were having a hard time connecting," Southwest Christian captain Adam Tebbs said. "The message for the second half was settle in behind their second line, and play our game."
Senior captain Jon Brain felt at times it was 1-on-5 in the attacking third.
"What was so hard about this team, more than any other, was their defensive third. They had so many numbers back. We'd get through two lines and they were in such great positions still with their defense," Brain said.
Brain, visibly frustrated throughout the game, on his inability to finish a scoring chance, he said, did breakthrough for Southwest Christian, a tally with 31:26 remaining in regulation. The lone goal in the 1-0 win.
An initial shot from Luke Kamm deflected off a diving goaltender's hand into the crossbar, Brain's rebound attempt, a chip shot over the goaltender, was ruled across the goal line by the assistant referee when PIZM defender Noah Wernau cleared the ball back into the field.
"Luke had a great shot. A lot behind it. He likes to knuckle it in there, so all I was thinking was rebound, rebound, rebound. I saw the ball bounce off the crossbar and I just knew I had to score," Brain said.
Despite objections from the PIZM players, when the head referee quickly consulted with the side referee, the goal was awarded right away.
"It bounced right before the goal line and then the momentum carried it into the net. I knew there was no chance he could have saved it before it crossed the goal line," Brain said.
It was Brain's team-leading 16th goal in just nine matches after missing much of the season with a back injury. Twelve of those have come in five playoff games.
The Stars had outscored playoff opponents 29-4 this season, including a 6-0 win over top-5 Providence Academy in the Section 6 final, and Proctor 7-0 in the state quarterfinals.
So having a one-goal lead in the second half, the pressure that comes with the opponent pushing for the tying goal, Southwest Christian was glad to have Tebbs between the pipes.
Tebbs was named to the first-team all-Metro list by the Star Tribune this week. But it's another award, that he felt he deserved, that gives him extra motivation right now.
"When I didn't get named Mr. Soccer, my first thought how I'm going to show them. I'm going to go out and put up three zeroes, three shutouts," Tebbs said.
While Tebbs bailed out the back line on a few miscues, and made a diving save on a free kick attempt, the captain was quick to point out that the guys in front of him are the ones doing the real work.
"I just love having the back line in front of me. Those guys make it so much easier for me. And our midfielders, they are so good at blocking passes. We have this mindset of keeping the shutout. If we limit big chances, we feel good about getting that shutout," Tebbs said.
Southwest Christian will return to U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis for the Class A state championship at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6. The sixth and final contest set for the day.
The top-seeded Stars will face No. 3 seed St. Paul Humboldt/Open World Learning The Hawks beat Rochester Lourdes 1-0 in the second semifinal.
"It's such a great venue. It's amazing being in this situation. It's definitely the coolest setting I've ever played in," Tebbs said.
"It's just a surreal time. It's my senior season. For Tebbs, Cam (Mellema), Jack (Boike). We've dreamed of playing at this stage. I'm just grateful to have this chance to play with these guys. The way this team has developed over these last four years, it would be special to finish it off with a win," Brain said.