Crusaders, Wildcats will clash for a final time on state stage on Saturday for crown

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit seniors Seifu Zerabruk and Samir Johnson celebrate a first half goal against South Eugene. The Crusaders take on Westview in the Class 6A state championship game on Saturday.

The Jesuit-Westview boys soccer rematch everybody wanted is on, only this time there will be no tie.

When the Wildcats and Crusaders square off in the Class 6A state championship game on Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium at 6 p.m., only one Metro League counterpart will walk away with the blue trophy. After tying 1-1 in the regular season and splitting the conference crown, it feels appropriate that these two conference top-line teams get a chance to settle the score once and for all on the biggest stage of all.

Jesuit beat South Eugene 3-0 in the 6A semifinals on Tuesday at Cronin Field and Westview handled Grant at home by a 2-1 count to advance to the 'ship.

It feels like all season these two programs have been on an early November collision course. Both teams have exquisite talent and entertaining playing styles. They've had slight setbacks here and there but for the most part have looked the part of a state title contender. Westview went 16-1-1 with its only equalizer coming against the Crusaders in a defensive-dominant game that grounded to a standstill, leaving both creative, free-flowing squads stuck in the proverbial mud for much of the 80-minute match.

If the title opens up and the rivals choose to play more of an offensive scheme, watch for an incendiary barrage of scoring. Westview senior Jonathan Guitierrez-Saucedo scored more than 10 goals this season including two against Sunset in the second round. Liam Kiger is a dynamite finisher who can also distribute the ball well.

Takumi Jankovsky, Alex Monroy and Zach Velasco make up what Westview claims is the best midfield in the state. Velasco was the Metro Player of the Year this season. As a team, Westview has a scored an absurd 74 goals this season.

Jesuit counters with a stockpile of projectile scoring itself. Seniors Cesar Cruz, Samir Johnson and Seifu Zerabruk all put home goals against South Eugene. Johnson is back after tearing his ACL in the spring and adds even more scoring punch to the forward position. Zerabruk and Cruz can flip the field quickly and connect on crosses around the net. Should both teams choose to push up the field, attack and play aggressively, the passing lanes should be vacant and the goals could come in droves. As has been discussed before, many of Westview and Jesuit's players play with or against each other on the club scene. Jesuit goalie Nolan Aylward said he knows all but two or three of Westview's players, mostly from suiting up for Portland FC during the off-season. The junior Jesuit keeper shared time with Westview goalie Davis King and directed Wildcat stars such as Jankovsky, Nicholas Younkins and Liam and Dane Kiger from the last line of defense. Zerabruk, Johnson and Oscar Baudey also play with Portland FC. And the veterans from each team have played each other at the high school both in the regular and in the playoffs before. Each squad knew one another's game's and tactics inside and out.

"I think it'll be a very close game," Aylward said. "It'll be the little things that separate the two teams. Whoever does those the best will get the lead."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - The Westview boys soccer team beat Sunset in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs on Nov. 1. and will Jesuit in the 6A title match on Saturday at Hillsboro Stadium.

With both Westview and Jesuit being so evenly matched, it wouldn't come as a surprise if the state title bout goes to extra time and extends to penalty kicks. There is so much at stake, so much pressure, so much hanging in the balance. It's a blueprint for a high intensity, tight-fisted square-off that boils down to two heavyweight prizefighters going to the 15th round.

"It's just going to be a crazy battle and I'm looking forward to that so much," Aylward said. "I know when the competition is the best, I play my best soccer."

Ahead 1-0 against South Eugene, Zerabruk accepted a pass around the 20-yard line, shook a South Eugene steal attempt and rotated the ball to Aidan Azavedo in the center of the field. Without skipping a beat, Azavedo zipped the ball back to a cutting Zerabruk who knifed through the Saxon backline. South Eugene's defense fell asleep for a split second, then snapped out its slumber and sent two defenders and its goalie toward the Crusader midfielder.

The first defender was a step too late and the last defender was outfoxed by a nifty shot that Zerabruk put through the Saxon defender's legs. With the goalie out of place, Zerabruk nudged the ball toward the net and didn't need to watch it as it bounced into the goal. Instead, the all-Metro player raised his right index finger and chopped it as his teammates ran over to congratulate him. The score that was that easy.

In the second half, Jesuit's defense was caught too high upfield and an Axeman forward slipped behind the backline. Aylward sprinted out to stop the attempt, but the South Eugene threat kicked the ball past him before the junior keeper could make contact. Yet, Jesuit defender Jack Chestnut defused the breakaway attempt by hustling into position for the poke away to preserve the Crusaders' 2-0 edge. Senior midfielder Cobi Hughes made a huge defensive stop in the first half as well, kicking away a free ball that was dangerously close to going in the net and slicing Jesuit's lead in half.

And Aylward was awesome, saving six shots. South Eugene got off 13 shots but didn't score once.

"If your keeper does a good job, your defense sees that and they feel compelled to do a better job," Aylward said. "And, when you see them doing a better job, being tighter on their man, you want to reward them by being even better yourself."

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