Nicolet boys soccer coach Brian Weisse admits that other North Shore Conference coaches with a hope of gaining a slice of the league title were encouraging and pulling for his side when it visited league leader Whitefish Bay in the finale Tuesday night.
If the Knights could pull off the upset, the potential of a four-way tie for the championship could still be in the offing depending upon other results this evening.
But the host Blue Dukes were having none of that, as on their senior night, the Blue Dukes got a goal out of Max Loebl after a chaotic set of rebounds in the 54th minute and then got an insurance score in the 76th minute on a lovely play by T.J. Schmid to win the title outright with a 2-0 decision.
"Yes, some guys talked to me about it and sometimes that stuff works out, but sometimes it doesn't," said Weisse. "Bay just played a bit better than us tonight."
With the win, the Blue Dukes finished the regular season at 6-1 in NSC play and 13-5 overall, while Nicolet finished at 3-4 and 6-10-2, respectively.
It was a fitting end to a strong league season for the Blue Dukes and their nine-man senior class, who were feted at halftime as Bay AD John Gustavson noted that the group had a collective record of 46 (now 47) wins, 18 losses and four ties in their four-year careers and boasted an even more impressive 3.554 collective grade point average.
Second-year Blue Duke coach Kevin Brennan was pleased for his side.
"Very excited," he said. "A very nice thing indeed. Much deserved after seeing the competition this season. I thought we had the best team out there and it's a testament to them.They went out and made it happen. Proved that they were the best group."
Bay, which is the second seed in its WIAA sectional and will host Milwaukee Pulaski at 5 p.m. next Tuesday in a regional game, took a little time proving that point Tuesday night.
Brennan noted that the Blue Dukes, who had already clinched a share of the league title going into Tuesday night were a little nervous going in with the opportunity of an outright championship on the line.
"But it was a little more of an excited sort of nervous than anything else," he said.
Still, the Knights were able to get a bit of pressure early, gaining a few corner kicks but to no advantage.
"We had several chances in a row right away," Weisse said, "but I tell you if their number 20 (Bay's Jake Taylor) was in the area, he was clearing it away. He did a nice job."
Neither team then mounted another serious threat in the first half.
And it remained that way until the 54-minute mark, when Blue Duke senior co-captain Austin Middleton roared into the midfield and came to a point about 30 yards out.
He put a hard shot on goal, but it was deflected and a rebound missed. But Nicolet could not clear and Loebl finished it off from point blank range.
"There's always a little bit of pressure in a situation like this," said Middleton, who got the assist on the play, "but you just play on. And once we got that first one (goal) everything started to fall into place for us."
That was the case, as the Blue Dukes kept applying the pressure and kept the ball in the Knights' half of the field.
"We talked about this at halftime," said Brennan. "We were getting possession but not very well in the attacking third. We weren't getting shots on target."
"We really emphasized putting a little more pressure on them."
The Blue Dukes nursed the lead into the final minutes, when Nicolet got another nice opportunity on a corner kick from junior midfielder Nick Sullivan. The ball spun hard towards the near right post and the goal-line and almost appeared to go in before the Blue Dukes Jack Middleton cleared it away.
The Knights protested that the ball had crossed the line, but no call was forthcoming.
"I'd certainly like to see it again," said Weisse. "Obviously my guys thought it was in but the ref didn't. In a situation like that, we try to emphasize to the guys the idea of filing it away and moving on."
And Schmid reminded the Knights of that point just a short time later as he took a pass at about the 30-yard line with only one defender on him. He made deft and professional level move to drop his man, and moved in a couple of steps and bombed a shot to the far right post.
"T.J. was the best player on the field tonight," said Brennan. "He gets us going."
At that point, the game was over and the title was Bay's.
"It means a lot to win the conference title," said Austin Middleton. "It just shows the amount of time and dedication that we've put in."
"We feel confident at this point."
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