FENTON — Lutheran St. Charles didn’t melt in the moment Saturday.
The Cougars received a goal from senior Cuinn Lurtz in the first half and two from sophomore Sam Magueja in the second half as they defeated St. Pius X 3-0 in the championship game of the Class 1 boys state soccer tournament at Soccer Park.
It was the first appearance for both teams in the title game.
“It’s amazing,” said the hard-working Magueja, who finished as Lutheran St. Charles’ goal-scoring leader with 21. “This means a lot because I’m really close with the seniors. They wanted to win, we wanted to win. It’s our last game. I’m glad I got to play and win with them.”
The Cougars (22-5-1) shared hugs and smiles on the field after the countdown of the final 10 seconds. A large gathering of fans joined them on an adjacent field following the trophy presentation.
Coach Mark Lurtz was in the middle of the scrum. At one point, as his players were grouped together for photos, Lurtz rushed in from the side and stretched out on the ground in front of them.
“It’s really beyond cool,” Lurtz said. “I’m still processing it. We got about halfway through the game and I saw the score. It’s a good team we were playing, so it could have changed at any point.
“Then we got the second (goal) and felt a little more comfortable. But that third goal really cinched it.”
A few feet away from the partying Cougars, St. Pius players were being comforted as they battled the disappointment that comes when a dream is within reach but not realized.
Lancers coach Aaron Portell, absorbing the scene, felt similar sadness.
“(Magueja) is a weapon up top, Portell said. “He was a factor, definitely. I thought we came out nervous. We didn't play our style. We like to build up a little bit from side to side, but we kind of got away from that and just started kicking and looking to get one over the top. That’s not who we are.
“We settled down in the second half. We moved the ball better the second half, but (the Cougars) were just a little better than us.”
The Lancers (18-7), who defeated Fair Grove 4-0 in the semifinals Friday, saw their eight-game winning streak halted.
St. Pius nearly struck first. Senior Nathan Stroll accepted a long through ball and rifled a shot that caromed off the right post in the 15th minute.
In the 19th minute, the Lancers were defending when they were whistled for a foul 26 yards from the goal. Cuinn Lurtz, a powerfully built defender, twisted the free kick around St. Pius’ four-man wall and inside the right post to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
Sophomore goalie Zander Street went right, then moved left, but was too late to prevent the ball from settling into the back of the netting.
“I've been working on those in practice," said Lurtz, the coach’s son. “It was my plan to get the goalie off his line and not think that was where (the kick) was going. He moved to the other side because he thought I was trying to go to the far post. I caught him off guard.”
Portell bemoaned the timing of the goal.
“It happened just a few minutes after we hit the post on what could have been a goal for us that changed the game,” he said. “It was a good shot on the direct kick. He placed it well. That affected us. I don’t think we really bounced back from that. It was a big part of the game.”
Junior Matthew Wandersee's shot was saved by Street in front of the left post in the 22nd minute. St. Pius came close in the 27th minute when junior Ian Kutilek, who had just entered the game, attempted a 35-yard shot that went off the crossbar.
The Lancers came out strong in the second half, and some shifty moves by sophomore Adam Foy produced a shot inside the box in the 43rd minute that was caught by senior goalkeeper Caleb Engelhardt, one of his five saves
Magueja then went to work, giving Lutheran St. Charles a 2-0 lead in the 49th minute when he finished a shot from the right side of the box. Magueja put the game out of reach in the 66th minute, beating a pair of defenders on the left side of the box and scoring inside the right post.
“On the first one, I took one touch and cut in the shot. On the second one, I took two touches and shot,” said Magueja before taking a big-picture look at a season that had just ended on such a high note.
“At the beginning, we weren't a full team,” he said. “Most of the people on JV last year moved up to our varsity team, so we weren't used to playing together. All five games we lost were at the beginning of the year. After we got good chemistry, we started playing better.”
The Cougars went 14-0-1 in their final 15 games following a 5-0 loss to Whitfield on Oct. 1. In some of those games, Magueja was the starting goalkeeper as Engelhardt battled to come back from injury.
Mark Lurtz has a great appreciation for Magueja and is eager to see what he can do in his final two seasons with Lutheran St. Charles.
“He got into the open field and took guys on in the backfield,” said Lurtz before shifting his thoughts to the effectiveness of his team’s overall performance. “We played our game today. (Friday), we had a tough time getting in our heads that we were at state. But today, I think we felt like we belonged here. It was the game we normally play.
“Our guys did a great job. Usually, I pace. But I sat down and they took it from there. It was good stuff.”
Portell hopes he and the Lancers are in the winner’s circle next year.
“St. Pius has a long tradition of soccer, but this is the first team that’s gotten to the final game, he said. “It stings a little bit now, but it’s something these guys are going to remember. We've got a lot of core kids coming back, so we're hoping to get back here next year.”