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Apollos get two goals from their Metro Player of the Year Thuillier, one from Turner

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior Ellis Harwood and the Apollo boys soccer team shut out South Medford in the Class 6A first round.

Can the quarterfinal curse that's hovered over the Sunset boys' soccer program the last decade be broken?

The Apollos haven't advanced past the second round of the Class 6A playoffs in nearly 10 years. It's an astonishing fact considering how skilled, sound and well-coached Sunset is from season-to-season. One would figure the Apollos are a prominent, yearly quarterfinal squad at least.

It speaks to how underrated Oregon is at producing playoff teams at the state level more than anything Sunset has or hasn't accomplished.

The current players are fully aware of the so-called hex. And with another unit full of finishers like Julian Thuillier, masterful creators like Ellis Harwood and stout defenders like Mason Norby and Daniel Zuccari, this very well could be the year the jinx is up.

Sunset cruised to a 4-0 6A first round win over South Medford on Nov. 2 to advance to a second round clash against Cleveland at home on Nov. 6.

"If we can get past that game, I feel like it's going to be totally different this year," Harwood said. "I think we can break it. We get a lot of energy from our home stadium and our fans. And you get a lot of confidence from the first (playoff) win that we can use (against Cleveland)."

Most of the more undermanned Metro League teams try to play a defensive style of soccer against Sunset in hopes of keeping the score close. Even Jesuit compacted the field and forced five defenders back. But South Medford played the Apollos man for man, and only positioned three defenders along the backline, which opened up huge swaths of space all over the pitch. Sunset was too fast and too technical for the Panthers and punished the South Oregon foe with lightning-quick passes and counters. Thuillier, who was just named Metro Player of the Year, scored two goals. Andrew Turner chipped in a goal for his first of the season. For a playmaker like Harwood, who pushes the envelope and passes like a point guard, the wide-open game was a dream.

"It's just so satisfying to hit a dime (pass), to do something you're good at all the time," Harwood said with a smile. "Instinctively, I just like to pass. Setting up those plays is one of my greatest attributes, so I try to use it as much as I can."

Sunset senior Ian Robb pressured the South Medford defense and Thuillier flew in from his forward spot and cleaned up a loose ball with a right to left corner heater to give Sunset a 2-0 first lead. Norby, Zuccari and goalie Ajax Zappitello preserved the shutout. Now, the Apollos get a chance to put the "round of 16 curse" in the past.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior Julian Thullier and the Apollo boys soccer team shut out South Medford in the Class 6A first round.

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