Once also-rans, Lewis Central boys soccer completes transformation into state soccer champions

“What an amazing season with an amazing group of players,’’ Lewis Central coach James Driver said. “They deserve it. I will remember this moment forever."

DES MOINES — Iowa began its 25th spring state tournament in boys soccer late last week, and Council Bluffs Lewis Central had been little more than an afterthought.

The Titans entered the 2019 edition with zero state tournament victories. By contrast, Cedar Rapids Xavier, Tuesday’s opponent, had 29 state wins.

Lewis Central is no longer an afterthought.

The ninth-rated Titans slayed top-rated Xavier, a seven-time champion, 1-0 in the Class 2-A championship game at Cownie Soccer Park. It capped a tournament in which L.C. also ousted No. 3 Storm Lake and No. 8 Hudson.

“What an amazing season with an amazing group of players,’’ L.C. coach James Driver said. “They deserve it. I will remember this moment forever.

“They played together. They played as a team. They didn’t make it about individual stats. They stuck together, played well and they came home with the trophy.’’

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The title-winning goal came in the 23rd minute, after a seemingly innocent Xavier handball near midfield. Connor Williams sent a free kick into the box, and it deflected to junior Jacob Lin in front of the goal. He knocked in his fifth goal of the season and celebrated with a backflip.

After a pretty even first half of possession, Xavier applied plenty of pressure after the intermission. One reporter had the Saints with 14 shots to the Titans’ six, and eight shots on goal to the Titans’ four.

However, keeper Jensen and the back line of juniors Williams and Cole Drummond, senior Brandon Cline and freshman Easton Adams were up to the task, recording their 19th clean sheet in 23 outings and keeping Xavier scoreless for just the second time this season.

“It’s just a mentality,’’ said Jensen, who was asked for an autograph from a young Titan fan during a postgame interview. “Getting after it at practice, just battling to be better. We got the right group of guys that were willing to do it all together. We didn’t have anyone that was too selfish.’’

The third-seeded Titans (20-3) dodged two great Xavier chances down the stretch. With eight minutes left, a well-timed cross left Jensen out of position, but Adams alertly made a kick save of a shot on frame.

And with just more than two minutes remaining, leading scorer Andrija Mijatovic (26 goals), Xavier’s second-year foreign-exchange student from Croatia, made a second touch in close but sent it just wide of Jensen. He had scored a combined five times in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

The Titans regrouped and finished in grand fashion in front of a raucous student section Driver called “the best, hands down, in the state of Iowa.’’

The second-year Titan coach said all of the school’s soccer alumni — and beyond — should relish the championship.

“It’s not just our team that enjoys this win,’’ he said. “I think it’s our school and our community.’’

CB Lewis Central (20-3)..........1 0—1

CR Xavier (16-3)....................0 0—0

Goal: LC, Jacob Lin. Assist: LC, Connor Williams.

Kevin is The World-Herald's lead western Iowa sportswriter, covering about 60 high schools. He's also in charge of the sports department at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs.

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