The East Ridge boys' soccer team started their Wednesday in front of the entire student body at 8 a.m. with a rousing send-off. Once the pep fest was over, the nerves started to kick in for each of the players.
During the school day, it was hard to focus on school work because they were receiving messages from different soccer players around the area wishing them luck.
Luckily for Brennan Featherstone, his focus was on a test today so his nerves were in check for the majority of the day.
Once the team went on the bus and arrived at North St. Paul High School, the focus and mentality changed. They knew why they were there and what needed to happen that night.
That focus for 80 minutes helped the Raptors earn a 2-0 win over Lakeville South on Wednesday night to continue their season into the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"It was fun to look up into the stands and see them packed with players from other teams as well as our student section," said Miles Sitcawich. "That crowd made us even more ready for this game."
The game felt like deja vu though from the Raptors section finals win over Woodbury, which put East Ridge in full control and gave them the confidence needed to win the game.
The Raptors had many opportunities to score in the first half of Wednesday's game as the majority of the first 40 minutes were spent near the Lakeville South goal. Goalie Nick Wagner didn't have much to do in the first half as the defense locked down and made sure the ball never went near the goal.
East Ridge had a handful of corner kicks and free kicks, but the players weren't able to convert. The Raptors weren't frustrated though as they were excited to see the offensive production in the first half and they knew one kick would eventually end up in the back of the net.
The first goal of the night came with 31:39 left in the second half as Featherstone put a header on the corner kick into the side of the goal to give the Raptors a 1-0 lead. The goal in the Woodbury game came at 30:40 left in the second half, so the players definitely had a sense of deja vu.
"Chris [Duliere] made a nice pick for me and gave me the half-second to get that separation from the defender," Featherstone said. "Then, Alex [Hager] made a great ball and I just knew I had to get a head on it."
After the scored goal, Featherstone and the rest of the players ran over to the East Ridge student section to celebrate with the fans. It was a moment Featherstone will never forget.
Once the Raptors took the lead, Reese Dodd said the defense felt comfortable defending that lead. They wouldn't have minded another goal to create a larger lead, but they've been in similar situations, like the section finals game, where the defense had to defend a 1-0 lead for 30 plus minutes.
With about 5:30 left in the game, Cameron Kor made Dodd's dream come true as a strong passing game between three East Ridge players allowed Kor to have an open shot right near the goal. He put it away to give East Ridge a 2-0 lead and sealed the victory for the Raptors.
"Will [Johnston] had the ball and played it me and then I played it to Cullen [Featherstone] and he played it back to me," Kor said. "Then, I just put it away. After that goal, we all knew we were going to the Bank."
The anticipation started to build after the second goal and once the clock hit zero, the Raptors bench ran out to the field to celebrate with the other players. They were heading to the state semifinals and to U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I remember when I was a freshman, I told my parents that I wanted to play at the Bank or a big venue like that sometime in my career," Dodd said. "Being able to fulfill that dream during my senior year is unbelievable and we're all excited to get there next week."
After the game, head coach Tony Bidwell told his team to enjoy the victory, but he also said that the teams only get tougher from here. The Raptors will have a few days to practice and prepare for their semifinal game.
The No. 3 seed East Ridge will take on unranked St. Paul Central in the state semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Minutemen upset No. 2 seed Eastview on Wednesday night with a 4-1 win.
Even though St. Paul Central is unranked, the Raptors are looking at them as a strong competitor, especially upsetting the number two seed in the state tournament. The Raptors haven't played the Minutemen this season, so it'll be a new opponent for them.
"Our strategy doesn't change with a new opponent," Sitcawich said. "St. Paul Central will be a tough team, but we'll have practice and get ready for them. Tuesday will be a lot of fun with the fans, the atmosphere and a good game."