Bishop Dwenger boys soccer coach Carlos Cruz sees the intensity of the fandom at the school for football. He wants to begin developing that for soccer, as well.
Cruz's program can't match the football team's five state championships and 22 regional titles, but his team took a significant step forward Thursday, defeating Class 2A No. 13 Yorktown 3-1 at Shields Field in a regional semifinal match. The victory gives the Saints a chance to play for just their second regional title and first since 2000.
“It means everything,” Cruz said of the chance to capture a regional crown. “Not just because it's been such a long time, but I think it's important for future generations, for kids that are in fourth, fifth, sixth ... grade now, that they can aspire to some traditions, traditions that have historically existed here for American football.
“We want to create some of those traditions for our style of football. It's more than just a regional final, it's more than a semistate, more than all of that, for us it's about resurrecting our program and hopefully inserting some level of passion for the kids that are younger now.”
There was plenty of passion at the rain-soaked stadium Thursday as a boisterous group of fans braved the intermittent downpour and roared when the No. 9 Saints (12-4-2) went in front in the 18th minute on a flying header from Dominic Cruz, who had been dealing with a knee injury, but found his way on to the field. The senior turned a stellar cross from Luca Cruz into a 1-0 lead.
Then, Mother Nature intervened and the game was delayed for nearly 45 minutes because of lightning in the area. The teams thought they'd be able to return to the field at 7 p.m. but eventually had to wait until 7:15, giving Yorktown (15-3) a chance to regroup.
“The message (from the coaches) was to keep our heads up, don't think we're winning automatically just because we've already scored one,” Luca Cruz said. “There's still a whole game to play, so we had to keep our focus.”
The Saints took that message to heart and fended off an aggressive Tigers team.
In the 46th minute, when Dwenger junior George Getty used a nifty change of direction from just outside the box to get free and then fired to the lower corner from about 20 yards away for a goal to make it 2-0.
The Saints put the game away in the 60th minute, when Luca Cruz worked his way into open space 25 yards out and fired a left-footed strike to the upper right corner to make it 3-0.
“I just saw the goal,” Cruz said of his clinching shot. “I took a touch and I had it, then I struck it as hard as I could.”
Luca Cruz typically plays in middle, but the Saints decided to move him to the right flank for this game so he could use his left foot more effectively, a move that proved prescient.
“Outstanding,” Carlos Cruz, Luca's father, said of his son's performance. “I was very proud as a father, but as a coach, I don't think you can ask for a better performance.”
The Saints next play Saturday against No. 1 Canterbury, which defeated Oak Hill 4-1 on Thursday, at Norwell. Dwenger drew with the seven-time state champions Aug. 28.