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Late burst propels Central boys past Watertown

Aberdeen Central’s Gus Bjerknes (23) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a goal off a corner kick during Monday’s match against Watertown at Brownell Activities Complex. Photo by John Davis taken 9/18/2023

The scenario was nearly identical, but the result was completely different this time around.

Aberdeen Central broke a scoreless tie with three goals in the final 21 minutes to collect a 3-0 win over Watertown in Eastern South Dakota Conference boys’ soccer action Monday afternoon at Brownell Activities Complex.

The win was the sixth straight for the Golden Eagles. Their last loss came against Brookings when the Bobcats scored three unanswered goals to break a scoreless tie in the final 20 minutes for the victory.

“That’s a testament to how much mentally tougher we are versus when we were in that Brookings game,” said Central coach Lance Mohr. “We’ve come a long way, to be able to change gears like that and stay in the fight.”

Central scored a pair of goals on corner kicks down the stretch to take control.

Manuel Munoz scored the first one in the 59th minute before Gus Bjerknes scored on a corner about eight minutes later.

“It’s one of the first goals we’ve had off of a corner,” Bjerknes said. “One time before, the keeper caught it. I was in a good spot just to tap it in.”

Bjerknes said his plan on corners is to stay away from the cluster of players and wait for his opportunity.

“I just look for the ball,” Bjerknes said. “Where everyone’s going, I just kind of stay out of that space.”

Those two goals preceded the final goal by Tyler Bain, who initiated both of those corner kicks.

“I think we just found something,” Bjerknes said of the offensive outburst. “As soon as Manuel scored the first one, we just got on a roll.”

Meanwhile, the Central defense was stellar, just like it has been so many times during the current six-match winning streak. That defense is spearheaded by senior captain Jordan Grieben.

“Basically, we have a new group of guys back there this year. Coach wanted me to take leadership, make sure everyone’s in shape, make sure everyone’s getting on, make sure everyone’s keeping their head,” Grieben said. “All it really took was keeping our heads, getting in their backs, not letting them turn, which we did really well today.”

Aberdeen Central’s Jordan Grieben, right, passes the ball to teammate Derek Arunasalam, left, during Monday’s match against Watertown at Brownell Activities Complex. Photo by John Davis taken 9/18/2023

Grieben said the defensive performances take a team effort and it helps to have all-state goalie Camden Fauth guarding the net.

“From the beginning of the season to now and past years, we’re really staying locked down,” Grieben said. “A lot of that thanks to our senior goalkeeper Camden Fauth. He does really, really, really well back there. And this group of guys we’ve got, we’ve got some heart out here. We want to play and we want to defend, for sure.”

Central had chances to score early with a shot on goal just 43 seconds into the contest, and then had another attempt hit the post a few minutes later.

“I thought it was going to come back to haunt us with the first two really good chances we missed right at the beginning of the game, because anytime you miss those, you know you’re going to work uphill,” Mohr said. “It just seems a goal is harder to get and it was, because it took us until the second half and then we got two set-piece goals.”

Mohr was proud of the way his team came on strong in the second half to finish off the game.

The contest provided a unique atmosphere on homecoming week with a rare Monday afternoon contest, complete with the Central marching band in attendance. Mohr reminded his players to stay focused.

“I told them take a deep breath and just let it out of your mouth, and just release all the distractions,” Mohr said. “We’ve got a band, we’ve got a Monday game. We had a whole lot of stuff going on.”

And in the end, the Golden Eagles had their winning streak continuing on as well.

Mohr said he doesn’t talk about the current six-match winning streak, which came on the heels of three straight losses to start the season.

“We don’t because we know how easy they can go the other way, too. And they’re not really fun to track that way. We’ve had a couple streaks this year,” Mohr said. “We’re just going to keep it going. We’ve got good momentum, good confidence.”

Bjerknes said a big key has been learning a new system and then working together to implement it.

“We got a new system going this year,” Bjerknes said. “I think we’re finally focused on it and know what we’re doing, and we’re just working as a team really well, now.”

Central, 6-3, has a key ESD contest Saturday at Yankton. The Bucks are 7-2-1 this season.

“Tough one Saturday, but we’re really looking forward to it. You play games to ultimately have a chance to win conferences and we’re still in the hunt,” Mohr said. “If we get a win on Saturday, we’ll be in great shape heading into next week, so that’s our goal.”

Watertown 0 0 – 0

Aberdeen Central 0 3 – 3

First Half: No scoring.

Second Half: 1, AC, Manuel Munoz, 20:27; 2, AC, Gus Bjerknes, 12:35; 3, AC, Tyler Bain, 6:33.

Shots on Goal: Watertown 5; Aberdeen Central 7.

Goalies: Watertown, Owen Muller; Aberdeen Central, Camden Fauth.

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