The countdown began on the East Ridge sideline as the boys' soccer players were chanting "five, four, three, two, one" and the final horn went off. The Raptors ran over to goalie Nick Wagner and proceeded to jump around together with smiles on their faces and some players even had tears in their eyes.
The scoreboard showed a 1-0 win for No. 1 seed East Ridge over No. 2 seed Woodbury on Tuesday as the Raptors advanced to the state tournament. The first time since the 2015 season.
Co-captain Brennan Featherstone went over to hug head coach Tony Bidwell and assistant coach Yong Kim. As he was hugging Kim, Featherstone said, "finally."
That one word describes this past season and the journey it has taken to reach this point in the program once again.
"The selflessness of this team is what makes this team so good," Featherstone said. "We all want what's best for this team and not individual achievement. We work hard every day in practice and stay focused in each game because we wanted to reach this point, especially with so many seniors on this team."
There are 11 seniors on this team and this senior class has reached the section semifinals in 2016 and 2017 and the section finals in 2018, but the Raptors haven't reached the state tournament since 2015.
It was a match up that the community was looking forward to as well as the coaches and players because it was the Royal-Raptor rivalry game and it was a winner-take-all mentality.
"This game will probably be the most memorable game of my career here," said co-captain Reese Dodd. "Even if we win a game at state or even win state, this night will be memorable because I played against some of my friends I've grown up with all my life and this Woodbury team is a strong team."
The game remained scoreless for the entire first half as each team had opportunities to score in the first 40 minutes, but weren't able to capitalize. The Raptors had a handful of corner kicks that were either punched out by Woodbury's goalie Dominic Cuoco or missed the mark for a goal shot.
The Royals also had a couple fast breaks for the goal as well as a couple free kicks to try and take the lead. They just missed their shots too, which resulted in a scoreless game.
With 30:40 left in the second half, East Ridge was able to score the first goal of the night as the Raptors took a few shots at Cuoco and the goal. The first kick was blocked by Cuoco on a diving stop then another East Ridge player kicked the deflection and that went off a Woodbury defender.
Finally, the third time was the open opportunity as Josh Tong shot the ball past the defenders and Cuoco to score the first goal and give East Ridge a 1-0 lead.
"Once we scored that goal, our defense was excited because we knew it was our job now to defend that lead," Featherstone said. "Woodbury definitely fought for those 30 minutes, but I was proud of the way everyone was able to do their part in earning the shutout and the win."
The Raptors looked to a defense and goalie that has done nothing except stop the ball throughout this entire season. East Ridge has only allowed six goals in the 15 regular season games, which averages to 0.4 goals allowed per game.
The Raptors also have only allowed two goals in the section tournament with one coming in the quarterfinals against Tartan and the other coming against Stillwater in the semifinals.
East Ridge has outscored its opponents 42-8 in 18 games, combining the regular season and section tournament. Wagner is a big part to the Raptors success on defense. Featherstone and Dodd agree that Wagner has focused on all aspects of being the best goalie in the state and it's shown with his work on the field this season.
As for Wagner, he appreciates the hard work from the defensive line to stop plenty of balls before they reach him at goal.
"I just love this team so much and I'm glad we're able to play more games together at state," Wagner said. "These seniors have taught me a lot about this game and this program and I can't wait to play at state with these guys."
It was an aggressive and physical game between the two teams with a spot at state on the line, but in the end, East Ridge was able to come out with the victory and hold that section title in their hands.
At the beginning of the season, Featherstone and Dodd talked about their goals to win the conference, win sections and reach the state tournament. The conference title was earned on Thursday, Oct. 3, and the section title was earned on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
"These seniors have grown up together, so it's not just a bunch of seniors coming together to dominant," Dodd said. "This is a group of friends that have played together for a long time and have built this great chemistry along with the underclassmen and it's become a family."
That's two goals achieved for the Raptors, but they aren't done. They're ready for another tournament and continuing this season.
"We're excited to play at state and we're not finished," Featherstone said. "We want to play our best games during state and continue our season."
As for Woodbury, the Royals season has come to an end at the section finals. They had a strong season going 13-2-1 in the regular season and started the season with a 9-0 record.
The Royals also earned the No. 2 seed in the section tournament and was ranked in the top 10 for the weekly poll a handful of times throughout the season.
Woodbury will graduate 10 seniors on the team including names like Mohammed Musa, Anthony Wong, Gavin Lee, Austin Williams, Nate Hansen and Dylan Felth.
As for East Ridge, the Raptors will continue playing this season next week in the Class AA state tournament. The brackets haven't been released and the seeds haven't been determined, but East Ridge will play on a neutral site for the quarterfinals game.
If they were to win the first round, the semifinal and championship games would be played at U.S. Bank Stadium. The semifinal games would take place on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at noon and 2 p.m. with the championship game at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31.