By RICH ZALUSKY
Chronicle Assistant Sports Editor
STORRS â€” There were bone-chilling conditions early Friday afternoon at E.O. Smith.
Combine that with a blustry wind and it was going to be a factor throughout the Class L state tournament quarterfinal-round game between E.O. Smith and Bethel.
It all started with the coin flip prior to the start.
â€śWe said that if we lost the flip, we were going to have come out the first 40 minutes tied,â€ť E.O. Smith boys soccer coach John Blomstrann said. â€śIf we won it, we were going to have to get a goal.â€ť
Well â€¦ E.O. Smith ended up with the wind at its back for the first half.
Scoring goals proved to be no problem.
Cooper Knecht and Larson Richards each scored twice during a 5-goal explosion in the first half and E.O. Smith (19-0) advanced to the semifinals for the second consecutive season with a 5-1 victory over No. 8 Bethel (14-4-2).
â€śWe have so many offensive threats that we know if we can move the ball around that something good is going to happen,â€ť Knecht said. â€śWhen we miss out on a chance there will still be opportunitities for us.
â€śOur back line helps us a lot. Having that strong back allows us to keep moving forward and take chances.â€ť
Those chances were plentiful.
E.O. Smith hit the crossbar in the first five minutes and two shots â€” one from Knecht and another by Richards â€” narrowly went wide of the post.
That soon changed when Knecht was pushed from behind in the box during a corner kick leading to a penalty.
Knecht made sure to capitalize as he went the ball into the lower right corner with keeper Patrick Pena diving to his left â€” 15:14 into the game.
â€śWhen I step up to the spot, I usually just pick a side,â€ť Knecht said. â€śIf I can pick up on which way the keeper might dive it gives me a huge head start and itâ€™s a matter of sending it the other way.â€ť
It took all of 28 seconds for the scoreboard to change for the hosts when Richards knocked in a pass from Clark Bray that went into the lower corner with Penaâ€™s vision blocked in front of him.
The prettiest goal of the afternoon came at 27:13 when Richards â€“ who is extremely dangerous on corners or free kicks â€” delivered a low laser away from the wind towards the center of the 18 and Knecht timed is run perfectly down the center and slid into the ball to make it 3-0.
â€śWe talk before the game specifically on what weâ€™re going to do,â€ť Knecht said. â€śThat one was actually a planned play. Larson has been able to hit the spot it seems every single time this year.â€ť
The lead grew to 4-0 on an own goal â€” two minutes later â€” and Knecht provided the assist on the second goal from Richards at 38:33.
â€śComing out strong like we did is a big deal for us,â€ť Knecht said. â€śIt gives us plenty of confidence. We know if we come out flat weâ€™ll can let our opponent have an opportunity to get into it.
Even with the big lead, Blomstrann stressed during halftime that anything can happen.
Nothing would happen.
Over the first 10-plus minutes, Bethel had a difficult time keeping the ball on E.O. Smithâ€™s side of the pitch as the ball-control, possession, play the ball on the ground style that makes the hosts lethal, continuing to create opportunities.
â€śWe showed it was not just the wind today that determined the outcome,â€ť Blomstrann said.
The one negative on this day came on the placement of a wall â€” the Panthers put an extra man out wide â€” prior to a direct kick from Bryan Osebio that put Bethel on the board for its lone goal with 11:16 remaining.
E.O. Smith will see another opponent from the South-West Conference â€” No. 4 seed Masuk â€” in a semifinal game either Monday or Tuesday at a site and time still to be determined.
Masuk (18-3-1) moved into the semis with a 2-0 quarterfinal-round win over No. 28 RHAM.