No. 9 Dragons burn Bobcats in second half

T-R PHOTO STEPHEN KOENIGSFELD • Luis Angel Fernandez runs down the sideline, working to beat Johnston defenders during the opening minutes of Monday night’s game against the No. 9 Dragons. Fernandez had the lone Bobcat goal in the seventh minute, as they fell 4-1 to the Dragons on Senior Night.

Monday night’s match between Marshalltown and No. 9 Johnston was the perfect balancing act. It was a test to see who could put together the most complete plan and execute it with as few blemishes as possible.

By the time the buzzer sounded twice, the scale was tipped in the Dragons’ favor, as they scored four unanswered goals to top the Bobcats 4-1 on Senior Night.

Luis “Toni” Angel Fernandez had a great spot from a teammate at about the 18-foot mark in the sixth minute and took a strike that landed right in Johnston (9-3) goalie Alex MacGregor’s hands. But the second time was the charm for the Bobcat junior.

Again, on a perfect drop, Fernandez took the ball inside the 16-foot box, maneuvered around a defender and blasted a strike right on by MacGregor at the seven-minute mark to take a 1-0 lead.

The first half came in acts for the Bobcats. The first 10 minutes were contested at or around midfield for most of that time period, despite Fernandez landing two shots on goal.

T-R PHOTO BY STEPHEN KOENIGSFELD • Marshalltown’s Mark Landherr, left, and Johnston’s Evan Kilstrom, right, fight for a header at midfield Monday night during the contest between the No. 9 Dragons and Bobcats. Marshalltown fell 4-1 on Senior Night.

The next 20 minutes or so were a continuation of amped-up offense from the Bobcats (4-8), taking shot after shot. In all, Marshalltown had eight shots, with four on goal, most of which came in the first period. And before the break, the Dragons finally found their moment off a corner kick from Kevin Zhao to Samuel Fairchild to tie the match up 1-1 in the 24th minute.

“They came out a little more persistent,” said MHS head coach Chris Fuchsen. “They were hungry and they stepped up their pressure. You’ve got to believe the coach refocused them and that was the big thing. Their intensity was why. They were swarming, two or three players to every loose ball. That really changed the momentum in their favor.”

The Dragons, indeed, ratcheted up their offense to another level in the second half, tipping that scale more and more toward the purple sideline with each ticking minute.

Johnston tallied 18 total shots with 11 landing on goal. Ricky Ibarra was back in the goal for the Bobcats, who is filling in for a banged-up Alec Reynolds. Ibarra had seven saves on the night, allowing two of the four goals to slam off the cross bar and into the goal in the second half.

Fuchsen said the attention to detail, on crosses and set plays will be a primary focus as the Bobcats head down the final stretch of the regular season.

T-R PHOTO BY STEPHEN KOENIGSFELD

“Games like these are excellent opportunities for us to get used to big-game matches, especially going into the postseason,” Fuchsen said. “And how important it is to always be attentive on set pieces. That really hurt us there, when it was 1-1 and that set piece goes in. It’s so deflating, and it was a near-post run that clipped in. But it was a great service and they obviously work on it.”

The Johnston attack never really slowed down, as by the time the sun had set, the Dragons out played the Bobcats on corner kicks 5-0 on the offensive end. Free kicks also weighed heavily in favor of the Dragons, as they were able to steal 18 freebies to the Bobcats’ 12.

Despite leading so early and so quickly, and eventually giving up that lead that transfigured into a loss, the Bobcats aren’t pressing panic or regressing. Fuchsen said the end result, a postseason run, is still obtainable if they choose to build off the losses like the one they took Monday night.

“We were in there in the first half,” Fuchsen said. “We put a goal in in the first eight minutes and really capture that energy from Senior Night. We knew at 1-1 at halftime that their first goal was a little lapse in focus and concentration on the far side. That’s just one of those growing pains, but little stuff like that goes a long way. We deny that little clippy there, we deny that second goal and you keep that momentum. But a quality team like that, they’re always going to challenge you and press you.”

Marshalltown will head to Dowling Catholic (5-7) on Friday for its next match before wrapping up the season at No. 10 Des Moines Lincoln (9-3).