OREGON — Seven weeks ago, the Monona Grove boys soccer team snapped Oregon’s nine-year conference unbeaten streak.
On Thursday night, the Panthers made sure the Silver Eagles wouldn’t halt another of their impressive runs — and got a little payback, too.
Junior Zach Bennett and sophomore Collin Bjerke scored on second-half set pieces — the latter straight off the training ground — as Oregon surged to a 3-1 victory in a WIAA Division 2 sectional semifinal in front of an overflow crowd at chilly Huntoon Field.
“We were hungry tonight,” said Bjerke, who returned a few weeks ago after missing most of the regular season after suffering a broken collarbone Aug. 29 against Mount Horeb.
Madison Conduah had the other goal as the second-seeded Panthers (15-4-3) advanced to Saturday’s Wilmot sectional final against No. 4 seed Sauk Prairie — it’s the sixth consecutive year Oregon has reached the last level of the playoffs before the state tournament.
“I think the tradition and expectations we have here are set high,” said Panthers coach Kevin May, whose team is seeking its first state berth since the last of three straight in 2014. “These boys know when we train and when we play a game, the bar is high and you have to be pushing yourself to hit that bar every training, every game. So when we get into situations like we were in tonight, we execute when we need to execute and put ourselves in a position to win.”
In the teams’ Badger South Conference meeting Sept. 7 in Monona, sophomore Isaac Becker scored the lone goal in the Silver Eagles’ 1-0 victory — that was the Panthers’ first league loss since 2008, ending a 50-game conference unbeaten streak (48-0-2).
Becker was at it again early Thursday. He finished off an impressive sequence of passes that started with a ball from right back Mitch Thomas and ended with senior Joey Scalissi setting up Becker’s 10th goal of the season in the 10th minute as the visitors took the lead.
But this time, Oregon had a response. Conduah leveled the score off a feed from Bjerke in the 22nd, and the Panthers had the better of the play for the balance of the half.
Bjerke was central to the Oregon attack from his attacking midfield spot in the Panthers’ 3-5-2 formation. The sophomore drew a foul about 27 yards out on the right side in the 51st minute, and Bennett promptly drilled the ensuing free kick through the MG wall and past goalkeeper Henry Hill-Gorman to the far post to put the home side in front.
“Collin drew the foul in a nice position, gave me a good opportunity for a shot and I put it away,” Bennett said. “They turn and spin (in the wall), it went through them.”
Bjerke all but sealed the outcome 11 minutes later on a nifty free kick from just outside the box on the right. Colin McCombs, Bennett and Zach Pasley lined up front of Bjerke and Conduah, who made a run away from the area just before McCombs touched the ball to the right. Bjerke then bent a beautiful, curling shot to the far post past Hill-Gorman.
“It’s been big — everyone knows he’s a solid player and kind of gives us an added dynamic to our attack,” May said of Bjerke’s return. “He’s a special player, so when he’s out there, he makes other guys look good and raises our performance.”
Silver Eagles coach Randy Becker, whose team advanced to a sectional semifinal for the first time since 2006, credited the Panthers’ midfield with disrupting their attack.
“They had a lot of fire and energy coming out,” said Becker, whose team finished 12-5-2 and won their first Badger South title since 2007. “When they started pressing us a little bit more, our passing wasn’t as crisp, we weren’t hitting feet as well — we started looking for just long balls instead of a true counter.”
Monona Grove 1 0 — 1
Oregon 1 2 — 3
First half: MG — Becker (Scalissi), 10th. O — Conduah (Bjerke), 22nd.
Second half: O — Bennett, 51st; Bjerke (McCombs), 62nd.
Saves: MG (Hill-Gorman) 1; O (Morgan) 2. Shots: MG 5, O 14. Fouls: MG 7, O 8. Corner kicks: MG 1, O 7. Offsides: MG 0, O 2.