May 10, 2017 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterOne hundred minutes of soccer was not enough to differentiate between the state's two top-ranked class 3-A boys soccer teams as the Lander Tigers and Riverton Wolverines played to a 1-1 draw late Tuesday night at Wolverine Field.
For both teams, Tuesday's match was the final tuneup for next Thursday's high school state soccer tournament at the Big Horn Equestrian Center in Sheridan.
Early on, it looked like the Tigers had the upper hand.
With quick, constant pressure and team passing that Riverton struggled to defend, the Tigers created space and opportunity constantly in the Wolverine third.
Wolverines keeper Shawn Curtain, who was spectacular throughout the match, made a stunning save in the 19th minute after Tigers striker Daniel Lobera flicked a pass behind his back to an open David Paredes, who blasted it on frame. Curtain was able to punch the rocket above the goal to keep the Tigers off the board
But the Tigers kept the pressure on and the quick, strong Lobera gave Lander a 1-0 lead with his shot in traffic just two minutes later.
"We've been playing these guys four years now and we know a lot of their guys growing up," said Lobera, the state's leading scorer with 19 goals. "For us, it was a good one and we're going to state with a lot of confidence."
And that is no surprise.
Should Lander make the state championship match, it will be Lobera's third in his four seasons as a Tigers force.
"We're really pumped for state," said Lobera, who got a yellow card and rested the final 10 minutes of the first half. "The reason we didn't get what we wanted last year in the final was a lapse in concentration at the very end of the game. This year, we're more mentally prepared."
But, Riverton has game too, and the Wolverines will also try to make it back to the state championship match.
Last year, Riverton was in the stronger Class 4-A, but surprised the state on its way to a state final appearance.
The lack of matches in the month of May was evident for the Wolverines, especially in the first half.
"Oh, man, they caught us out of shape. Our kids were working hard, but they weren't efficient and we weren't playing positionally very well,"said Riverton coach Aziz Waheed. "They move the ball faster than any team we've seen all year and are a great possession team."
The Wolverines have proven throughout the season they're a resilient bunch and Tuesday was no exception.
After intermission, in the 60th minute, Dawson Lane found midfielder Dayne Bradley, who put the equalizer past Lander keeper Abe Lowham, who also played strong in net.
Both teams kept battling in a tough, physical contest that saw a surprising four yellow cards issued.
"Find your heart," Waheed encouraged his team in the final minutes of regulation.
Although the Wolverines stayed organized defensively and created more opportunities, the matched ended in a 1-1 official draw after a 20-minute overtime period.
Or did it?
Wyoming High School Activities Association regulations do not allow regular season games to be decided in a shootout.
But with the annual Fremont County Cup traveling trophy at stake, both teams and the officials allowed the match to proceed to a decisive shootout.
"The game ends 1-1, and the shootout is just practice," center official Terry Pyer said after the match. "Aziz came out and I knew what he wanted and I said I would do it right away."
Lander drilled all five of its shootout tries, but the Wolverines struck the top corner of the frame on their fifth shot to lose the shootout and the trophy, 5-4.
The Tigers, who won a coin flip to win the Class 3-A Southeast conference, will play the winner of the Powell-Douglas play-in match, set for this Saturday, in their first-round game at the state tournament.
The Wolverines, outright winners of the Class 3-A Southwest conference, will battle the winner of the Newcastle-Worland play-in game in their state first-round match.
Get your copy of The Ranger online, every day! If you are a current print subscriber and want to also access dailyranger.com online (there is nothing more to purchase) including being able to download The Mining and Energy Edition, click here. Looking to start a new online subscription to dailyranger.com (even if it is for just one day)? Access our secure SSL encrypted server and start your subscription now by clicking here.