CR survives man-down, edges Appo 2-1 to make D-I soccer final

DOVER — The game was following the exact same script as a year ago.

For the second season in a row, the Caesar Rodney boys’ soccer team found itself playing a man-down against Appoquinimink High in the Division I state semifinals.

Only this time, the Riders ensured it would end differently.

Lyod Coutilien’s second-half goal put the Riders ahead and their 10-man makeshift formation held up for a 2-1 victory over Appoquinimink on Wednesday in the semifinals at Dover High. The Riders advanced to play Salesianum in the championship game Saturday at 7 p.m. at Dover.

The Riders avenged a 4-3 loss to Appoquinimink in last season’s semifinals and a 2-0 defeat from the regular season. Caesar Rodney had a player receive a red card in both semifinal contests late in the first half.

Junior Zander Omans had to make his varsity debut in last year’s playoff matchup. On Wednesday, he saved a penalty kick and recorded a key stop with six minutes to go to preserve the 2-1 lead.

“I can’t believe we managed to come back with a man-down,” Omans said. “Last year I was in the same situation, a man-down in my first start and we ended up losing 4-3. But this is what we prepared for, that made us ready for this year. It’s amazing feeling.”

Coutilien scored both goals for the Riders.

He netted the first off an assist from Tyler Morris on a corner kick. Coutilien had a chance to double the lead late in the first half but missed on a breakaway just prior to CR getting the red card.

Coutilien bounced back with a goal six minutes into the second half off an assist from Ayden Brown.

“Sometimes you got to man-up and take responsibility for your own actions,” Coutilien said. “I missed wide-open and I was like, ‘That’s not happening again.’”

Brown, a centerback, took the ball out of defense before dribbling upfield for a few moments. He then sent a sweeping pass on the ground nearly 40 yards to an onrushing Coutilien.

“I looked to my left and I saw him running,” Brown said. “I hit it across my body and he was clean through.”

The lead held up thanks to the play of Omans and the backline.

“He was incredible,” Brown said of his goalie. “That penalty save was absolutely insane.”

“My gosh, how do you play keeper any better than he did?” said CR coach Darrell Gravatt. “He was just fantastic.”

Stoppage time to end the first half could not have gone worse for the Riders.

First came the red card. Then Appoquinimink’s Cody Niggebrugge scored on a header on virtually the last play of the half before the referee blew his whistle for halftime.

The break gave the Riders time to regroup.

“We said we’re still 1-1, we weren’t losing,” Brown said. “All the pressure was on them. We’ve been here before and knew how to react. We just stayed calm.”

“Two years in a row where we didn’t get a red card all season until the state semis so that was frustrating for us,” Gravatt said. “It was like, ‘Man, what is going on here? This is the second year in a row.’ It was dark. But what a testament to the character of our team.”

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