For the first half here Tuesday, the Creston boys played like they were still shellshocked from Saturday’s home tournament overtime loss to Oakland Riverside, when they led until 41 seconds remained in regulation.
Carroll Kuemper Catholic led the 11th-ranked Panthers 1-0 at halftime, despite the fact coach Jesus Rodriguez saw his team control more of the possessions.
It was just a matter of time.
McClain Haines started a big second half for the Panthers by converting a penalty kick after being fouled in the box, with less than two minutes expired in the second half.
At the 27:34 mark, Ben Irr sent the ball deep to forward Conner Pals, who broke through two defenders to knock in the tiebreaking goal.
It was Pals’ 23rd goal of the season, tying his brother Seth for most goals in a season by a Creston player. He now has 45 career goals — two more than Seth finished with as the previous record-holder — with a full season remaining next year as a senior.
Irr capped the scoring binge with 18:47 left, taking a pass from Gavin Woods in the right corner to send a sharp-angled shot past the near post into the net for a 3-1 Panther victory.
Creston improved to 11-3 overall and 4-2 in the Hawkeye 10, while Kuemper slipped to 3-9 and 2-4.
“We possessed the ball very well,” Rodriguez said. “At halftime I told the boys this team should not be winning 1-0. In the second half we had better possessions, not so much dribbling. We were working more in combinations with each other. We were pushing better when the defense tried to clear the ball. We call it winning the second ball.”
Haines was fouled from behind early in the second half and slammed the PK low into the net.
The second goal was a textbook Irr-to-Pals play, which has been an effective combination in Creston soccer for several years, dating back to all-state midfielder Kevin Irr and Seth Pals at forward.
“Ben put it over guys and Pals beat two guys and scored,” Rodriguez said. “We worked on that yesterday a lot. (Trevor) Frain was doing well with that yesterday too. I’m surprised he didn’t get his goal.”
Frain almost knocked in a header in the final two minutes.
Pals said it’s satisfying to know nobody has ever scored more goals in a season or in a career in a Creston uniform.
“Yeah, it’s been one of my goals since I was in fifth grade,” Pals said. “Especially being my brother’s (record) before, that makes it a little sweeter. Hopefully I can put another one in, but as long as we keep winning, that’s what’s important.”
Harlan, 6-5 overall and 2-2 in the league, visits Creston Monday for the regular-season finale. Substate pairings should be released today or Thursday.
“Harlan will be a tough match next week,” Rodriguez said. “They have been receiving ratings votes.”
The Panther JV suffered its second loss of the season, 3-0. Caleb Cramer was goalkeeper for Creston. The Panthers had three good shots on goal in the first half, coach Lucian Diaconu said, but were unable to convert.
Creston 3, Carroll Kuemper 1
Creston (3) — McClain Haines (PK) 38:35 second half; Conner Pals (Ben Irr assist) 27:34 second half; Irr (Gavin Woods assist) 18:47 second half. Shots (on goal) — 19 (7 on goal). Individual shots (on goal)— Ben Irr 5 (2 on goal), Conner Pals 5 (3 on goal), Gavin Woods 3 (1 on goal), Levi Eblen 3, Gavin Leith 2, Trevor Frain 2 (1 on goal). Keeper saves — Alex Nielsen 4.
Kuemper Catholic (1) — Mitch Fitzsimmons 23:54 first half. Shots (on goal) — 10. Saves — 4. Cards — Taylor Niehaus (Y), 6:06 second half.