By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– Both East Lincoln and West Lincoln felt they played their best match of the season on Wednesday.
In the end, the Mustangs were a goal better than the Rebels.
Each team converted a penalty kick, but Lucas Dileo’s open-net score off a loose ball in the first half proved to be the difference as East Lincoln downed West Lincoln 2-1 in a Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference battle between teams desperately looking for wins as the season winds down.
“To see us finally doing the things that I know we are capable of doing. It wasn’t great, but it was our first time playing well in about four weeks,” Mustangs coach Jason Dragoon said. “It’s been four week since we’ve played a game remotely close to that level of good soccer.”
East Lincoln (5-6-1, 2-3-1), a team that has struggled with youth and injuries, looked like a playoff-caliber squad with crisp passing and spacing –– things you see at the upper levels of the sport. But so did West Lincoln (4-7-0, 0-6-0).
Despite their record, the Rebels were “the best team” the Mustangs had seen all year, Dragoon said. They matched the Mustangs on both sides of the ball, and even controlled possession in the second half by outshooting East Lincoln 8-3.
But a goal on what amounted to an empty net late in the first half was the difference maker.
“This is the best game we’ve played all year. We played well,” West Lincoln coach Tom Riley said. “What we’ve been working on the past couple of weeks, it showed up tonight. The first goal was just a little mental lapse. We weren’t thinking, and we have to think differently, but that’s coming.”
The ball was knocked around inside the box, and Rebels keeper Walker Boyles slipped as he went for it. Dileo was in position to score when the ball found him, and he converted with 15:51 remaining in the half.
With both teams playing defense at a high level, Dileo’s goal was the only live-ball score of the match.
The Rebels outshot the Mustangs 13-10.
“In the second half we went to survive and grind it out, and I’m very, very proud of my boys for grinding it out,” Dragoon said.
At the 15:27 mark of the second half, East Lincoln junior Garrett Reavis was brought down inside the box going for the score. That set up a penalty kick, which Reavis converted, for the 2-0 lead –– his sixth PK of the year, Dragoon said.
“He’s ice,” Dragoon said.
A little over a minute later, East Lincoln was whistled for a penalty when Ivan Calvillo was brought down in the box in similar fashion. He, too, converted his PK, and the Rebels were within a goal with 14:19 to go.
But East Lincoln’s execution –– and some good looks not converted by West Lincoln –– moved the Mustangs up a spot in the SD-7 standings to fifth while the Rebels stayed on the bottom.
“We’re fine. … I’ve told them this myself, I think this team is a lot better than what we were last year, skill-wise and everything. We just haven’t found it yet,” Riley said. “I think tonight we played well. We’ve got Bunker Hill on Monday. Hopefully we can carry it that way on Monday.”