CLARKSVILLE — At halftime of Saturday’s Class 2A boys soccer state semifinal, the challenge was thrown down for Oakdale’s Anthony Kocan by his coach, Mitch Rubin. And there wasn’t much mystery why.
“You know what, Anthony Kocan is our most-talented kid,” Rubin explained later. “He’s a four-year starter. He’s been on a state-title team. ... We kind of need you here.”
In what could have been the final game of his terrific high school career, Kocan did not miss his chance to deliver.
As yet another close, low-scoring game for the Bears stretched into its 42nd minute, Kocan flicked home a deft pass from senior teammate Kerem Yilmaz, lifting the Bears to a 1-0 victory over Kent Island at River Hill High School.
On the strength of its fourth consecutive victory by that very same score in these playoffs — “I would prefer 2-0,” Rubin said with a smile and plenty of gray in his beard — Oakdale advanced to its third state final and first since winning the second of its back-to-back titles in 2015.
The Bears (13-5-1) will take on nine-time state champion River Hill (16-0-1) next week at Loyola University at a date and time to be determined.
“That’s all I have been thinking about,” Kocan said of being back in another state final. “My freshman year, when we won, I was one of the youngest players on the team. It’s a little different now. I am just trying to relive it, telling these guys all my stories.
“It’s really motivating to be back here again. I am excited to see it through different eyes.”
Once again, Oakdale’s defensive prowess came through when the Bears needed it. A Kent Island team that scored 62 goals coming into the game put little to no pressure on Oakdale senior goalkeeper Jack Roby.
The Bears needed one chance, and they cashed in on it.
As the second-half clock ticked toward 38 minutes, Kent Island goalkeeper Jackson Davis came out to the top of the 18-yard box to make a surprising challenge on Yilmaz, who was trying to turn with the ball.
“I was shocked the fact that [Davis] was coming with me,” Yilmaz said. “Then, Jack Brown is calling out for the ball. He crosses it. It came back to me somehow. I just volleyed it in [toward the goal], and Anthony Kocan did the rest. [With the goalkeeper trying to get back in position], he just volleyed it right inside [the post]. It was so quick.”
There were 37 minutes, 59 seconds showing on the clock, and Kocan was simultaneously ecstatic and relieved he had come through after being challenged to do more.
“Coach told me to put everything I have on the field for my teammates,” he said. “I didn’t have a very good first half. I needed to push a little bit harder. And he challenged me. He said I am the captain of this team for a reason. And I need to go out there and show that I am.”