By Brian Paglia
Dutchtown reached the second formidable test on its schedule Friday with a 3-1 victory over Forest Park to clinch the region championship, a validating feat considering the Bulldogs unravelled in the same match-up last season with the same reward at stake.
A year ago, Dutchtown had a young core of sophomores and juniors eager to take the next step in the program's progression toward relevancy. A 11-3 record and state tournament appearance validated that, but a 4-0 loss to Forest Park in the region championship game left the season incomplete.
"It made us mature," said Dutchtown junior forward Darion Copeland, who scored a goal and added an assist. "We studied that game from last year and then we put it in this game."
Dutchtown (11-0-1, 7-0 Region 4-AAAA) counted on its advantage in height and disciplined set plays to expose Forest Park's weakness in size, which the Bulldogs exploited early.
Jordi Landburg scored twice in the first half, once on a long throw in from Copeland that he finished in the box. Dutchtown led 2-0 and was in control.
"Our gameplan," Dutchtown coach Justin Smith said, "was to take advantage of them on the set pieces on the throws and the corners and we did pretty well with that."
"Their set plays killed us," Forest Park coach Ken Walkington said. "Everytime with the tall people. Five-foot-five can't jump with 6-foot-3 in most cases. They were a tough team. We knew that."
Then the true test to see whether Dutchtown had matured came. Forest Park's Vincente Zenteno struck a ball that Smith said Bulldogs goalkeeper Mason Hall had no chance to thwart. Dutchtown's lead shrunk to 2-1.
Smith knew his team a year ago might stray from the Bulldogs' system of play under the pressure of a potential comeback. And though this year's team is the only remaining undefeated team in Class AAAA, Smith wondered how the Bulldogs would react.
"Honestly, that thought was in my head," Smith said. "It was good to see how quickly they responded and got back on our game and put another one in with our style of goal."
Lundburg struck again before halftime to make it 3-1, which was a comfortable margin with the way Hall performed in goal.
Forest Park (10-6, 6-2) invigorated its attack in the second attack and found myriad chances. There was Gonzalo Cruz's rocket from the left aimed for the far top corner of the goal in the 63rd minute.
Hall dove for the save.
There was Arturo Villalvazo's one-timer close in the box in the 77th minute.
Hall lunged across the goal and swatted it.
While Dutchtown struggled to captilize on its opprtunities, Hall ensured it didn't have to.
"Oh, he saved us," Smith said. "That was a great performance."