With the inaugural DIAA Division I state tournament coming up next, the Appoquinimink boys soccer team decided to practice winning a championship on Tuesday night.
The second-ranked Jaguars displayed the skill and intensity they will need against the state’s top teams, getting past No. 4 Caesar Rodney 3-1 at home in their regular-season finale.
“We knew the playoffs were after, but we were treating this game as it was a state final,” said Appo’s Sam Jester, who scored the final goal. “That’s how important it really was to us.”
The Jaguars (14-1) won an entertaining, back-and-forth game that saw multiple scoring chances by both teams. The Riders dipped to 12-3, with the Henlopen Conference championship game remaining against Southern Division winner Indian River on Saturday night at Milford. The Division I tournament begins Nov. 9.
“This was a huge win. A huge win to end our season 14-1,” Appo’s Ryan Moore said. “We’re going to get a good seed in the tournament, which is exactly what we wanted out of this.”
Both teams missed on great scoring chances before Moore put the Jaguars up 1-0 in the 12th minute, running on to a 50-yard boot by Derrik Scarpinato and bumping it past charging CR goalkeeper Kevin Patrick Sheahan.
“We run that play in practice all the time,” Moore said. “I felt confident that he was going to send the ball, I anticipated the run and I made it. I just committed to it.”
The Riders missed another point-blank chance in the 16th minute, but Sheahan made a brilliant diving save on Jester’s 20-yard free kick in the 32nd minute to keep the margin at one goal.
Appo doubled that lead less than three minutes into the second half, as Jackson Wines broke free and sent a low shot from the right side into the bottom left corner of the net.
But CR came right back two minutes later. Chimaobi Ikwuagwu made a run down the left side and sent in a sharp-angle shot that eluded diving Appo goalkeeper Chris Stilwell. The Riders’ Thomas Aloe settled the deflection and scored easily to pull CR within 2-1.
Sheahan denied Jester’s breakaway with a diving save in the 52nd minute, and Ikwuagwu sent a 20-yard free kick over the crossbar four minutes later. Jester put the game away in the 71st minute, settling a bouncing ball from Moore and banging it into the left corner for a 3-1 Appo lead.
“A game like this, chances come very slim,” Jester said. “Every single one, you have to think it’s the most important one of the game. Every one you have to take advantage.”
Momentum shifted constantly, with Appo taking 10 shots and CR managing seven.
“Looking at the schedule, we knew this game was going to prepare us going into the tournament,” Appo coach Adam Bear said. “We may even see them again, first or second round, I’m not sure. But it was important that we came out and played well.”