POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. – Farmington refused to be lured into a reckless retaliation despite being physically battered at times by Poplar Bluff in the rematch of a heated regular-season battle.
The Knights instead focused on playing quality soccer Thursday night, and rode a dominant first half to their first district championship since the 2011 season.
Senior midfielder Tyler Scales delivered two goals, freshman forward Bryce Sancegraw added a tally plus two assists, and Farmington prevailed 5-1 in the Class 3, District 1 final at Whiteley Park.
“We all feel excited. It’s the first district title for this group of seniors and second in program history,” said senior Andres Castro, who also netted a first-half penalty kick.
Farmington (22-1-2) extended its school-record win streak to 18, and will host familiar local rival North County in a Class 3 sectional contest on Tuesday.
A previous 2-1 slugfest was not decided until Matt Eaton scored a golden goal in overtime. The Knights never allowed that level of drama to transpire this time.
“We spoke today about our last game against them. We are able to dominate possession, but just didn’t have that killer instinct,” second-year Farmington coach Addae Rique said.
“From the moment our district bracket was announced, it looked like we’d probably play Poplar Bluff. I told the players that they couldn’t play emotionally. They had to play methodically. And this group really came together and our tactics paid off.”
The Knights struck during the 11th minute on a sudden play that originated near midfield. Tristan Stotler received the ball and tapped it in one motion to Sancegraw, who gained just enough separation to bury a left-footed shot.
“We’ve been playing together since we were little, so we have a connection out there, knowing where each other is at,” Sancegraw said about Stotler. “He just slotted a ball perfectly to the right spot, and I did my job of putting it in the back of the net.”
A decision by senior keeper John Bader to defend the north goal in the first half meant that Farmington would attack the more rugged portion of the pitch chewed up by heavy rain earlier in the week.
That strategy provided a fortunate break when a 30-yard drive from Scales found a rut and caromed over bracing Mules goalie Trevor Fredwell for a 2-0 advantage.
The Mules were outshot 15-9 overall, but produced a good scoring chance near the 20-minute mark when a free kick landed inside the box. Junior Ryan Propst was able to clear for Farmington.
Frustration soon boiled over for Poplar Bluff (14-11). Scales, who draws a top defensive assignment, helped the Knights disrupt most dribbling attempts from the middle of the field.
“We know that they usually like to kick and run. They don’t like to possess a lot,” Scales said. “We just adjusted to that. When they kicked the ball deep, we made sure as a team to get back.”
Stotler exhibited patience with the ball before sending a cross into the box. Castro was hauled down in the 29th minute, but converted the resulting penalty kick to extend the lead.
Ian Asher made it 4-0 a few minutes later on a right-side run after Sancegraw settled a pass on top. The Knights successfully protected the margin while trying to avoid injuries.
The Mules were called for a whopping 24 fouls and six yellow cards, three of which occurred quickly in the second half.
Stephen Rowland was booked before halftime following a 2-handed shove from behind as Farmington freshman Max Reid shielded a ball near the corner. Alexis Reyes-Mortero later leveled a man near the sideline after the ball was away, prompting a verbal warning from the head referee to the Mules’ coaching staff.
“They are a very physical team. They wanted to manipulate us and get into our heads,” Scales said. “It was big for us to get that early lead.”
Poplar Bluff broke the shutout bid in the 38th minute when Adam Vincent unleashed a free kick from about 40 yards that caught the crossbar and fell behind a leaping Bader.
Bader denied Victor Cerda on a similar threat moments later, then made a sliding save after Michael Anagnostopoulas beat two defenders with a clever move along the goal line with about 30 seconds remaining before intermission.
Castro was upended twice in the span of 90 seconds to draw yellow cards, and left the action along with Stotler due to cramping. A subsequent collision in the box created a second PK for the Knights.
Scales ripped the ball past the right post for his second goal of the night in the 66th minute. Cole Sutton misfired on a subsequent PK opportunity in the closing stages.
Jeffry Hardin made an explosive late run down the middle for Poplar Bluff, but his shot from 20 yards was blocked before ever reaching Bader, who finished with four saves.