For most of the second half, the Mead boys did everything right Friday afternoon – except score.
Crisp passes down the wings led to sharp crosses that led only to goal-kicks for University in a crucial Greater Spokane League soccer match.
Finally, in the 66th minute, Mead made something out of nothing, as sophomore Nolan Eldridge emerged from a wild scramble and scored to give the host Panthers a 1-0 win that kept them alone in first place in the GSL.
With two games left in the regular season, Mead is 6-1, a game ahead of the field, and has all but clinched a tie for the title. The Panthers face last-place Rogers on Wednesday before traveling to Shadle Park (4-4).
Central Valley is a game back at 5-2, but the Bears lost to the Panthers in the first week of the season.
U-Hi, Lewis and Clark, Mt. Spokane, Gonzaga Prep and Ferris are all tied for third at 4-3.
“It was a scramble, but we’ll take it,” Mead senior midfielder Corey Taisey said. “We had a bunch of chances we didn’t finish, but sometimes you need sloppy goals to win a game.”
It was Taisey who created the winner with a dribble across the top of the penalty box. He passed to Ryan Kutsch, who in turn found Eldridge for a 12-yard blast past U-Hi keeper Cody Smith.
“It’s because of those guys that I scored,” Eldridge said. “We knew this was an important match.”
The goal salvaged an up-and-down week for the Panthers, who were coming off a loss to Mt. Spokane on Wednesday and were outplayed for most of the first half against U-Hi.
The momentum turned in the second half, but not because of any tactical chances.
“Coach (Kevin) Houston told us we had to work for the ball,” Taisey said. “The first half we didn’t have our touch. After the loss to Mt. Spokane we were a little tight, but in the second we came back more relaxed.”
The Panthers moved the ball down the wings for several good chances. Leading scorer Jared Fretheim dribbled past three defenders and took a strong shot that sailed past the left post. Momentum stayed with the Panthers the rest of the way.
“We reminded them of what got us here,” Houston said after hugging some of the U-Hi players he coached before going to Mead in 2010. “That the goals aren’t going to come because we’re Mead.
“They’re going to come because of hard work.”