Despite all odds against them, Ponoka’s Storm FC men’s soccer team has won the double championship of the Battle River Men’s League by winning the League Cup after defeating Manluk FC 3-2 on their own turf on Sunday, Aug. 23 making it four trophies in two seasons.
The game in Wetaskiwin was a high stakes fixture, with Manluk, having lost their monopoly of league and cup championships of many years to Storm last year, trying to win at least the one title they could have this season.
As for Storm, they appeared to be in a disadvantaged position: The pitch they were playing on was at least twice the size of their home field at the Ponoka Secondary Campus, which meant a lot longer running distances, but they were also short on the bench with only three substitutes to relieve the exhausted players. Several key midfielders and attackers had not dressed up for Storm.
Coach Lonny Behm changed the team formation to accommodate the absence of the starters by positioning the youngest player, Jarret (the Bullet) Henderson as the attacker and pulling back Eric Escheid and Christoph Dittmar to midfield to allow them to assist the defense as necessary.
The new configuration paid off: Storm defense played a solid game, and Henderson did a brilliant job of causing havoc in the Manluk defense and scoring twice in the process, with match winning goal coming from the backbone of the Storm defense, Gurjit Sandhu as he sent a classy header to the Manluk net 10 minutes from the end of regulation.
Henderson created the first opportunity to score in the second minute of the game but it did not come to a score. As both teams tested each other’s defenses, the hosts were awarded a penalty in the 15th minute, but Storm goalie Wouter Opsteen made a spectacular save to keep the opponents scoreless.
Ten minutes later Dittmar sent a precision pass Henderson’s way on the right flank just outside the 18-yard box and the youngest player of the team struck with a spectacular shot giving the lead to the visitors 1-0.
Things almost got out of hand in the minutes following the goal as Storm players, disputing the referee’s calls, were shown yellow cards one after another; in just ten minutes six Storm players saw the yellow card, including one after the end of the first half whistle.
With the nerve-wracking confrontation with the officials having caused a distraction among the Storm players, Manluk scored in the last minute of the first half to equalize the score: 1-1.
Five minutes into the second half, Henderson was at it again; having wrestled the ball away from a Manluk defender, he sneaked into the 18-yard box and just shoved the ball into the net over the head and in between the hands of the goalkeeper to give the Storm their second lead of the game: 2-1.
About 10 minutes later, Manluk responded with a long range, almost from the midfield, shot to bring balance to the score for the second time: 2-2.
After that goal, Storm intensified their pressure coming in waves, attacking the Manluk net from both right and left, winning back-to-back corner kicks. In one of them, Sandhu jumped high for a magnificent header to score the game winner.
Coach Lonny Behm said after the game the change of formation had worked well for the team. He praised the team for a well-played game.
“It is the best effort I have seen from the team,” he said.