Owen Duff

Owen Duff

Carroll’s soccer team will play in the biggest game its had for nearly a decade today. The co-ed Cougar squad lines up at 6 p.m. today at Wabash in the opening round of the Class A boys soccer regionals. The Cougars haven’t been this far since 2012.

No. 15-ranked Carroll earned today’s road trip by coming out on top of a packed Carroll Sectional last week that featured two other ranked squads and the Cougars had to beat both to make it through.

“It was only the second sectional we’ve won in school history — that was obviously huge,” Carroll coach Dave Falkenberg said. “To have to go through No. 6 Faith [Christian], Central Catholic, and No. 7 in the state North White was huge. North White has knocked us out the last several seasons in the sectional.

“For me, it was just tears. This is my 17th season as coach and this group — especially the junior class — this group is a group I’ve worked with in the springs starting in seventh grade, because my son is one of those juniors.”

The family connections run deep. Falkenberg has two sons playing on the squad, junior Noah and freshman Eli, in addition to his nephew Owen Duff. There’s a ton of firepower among those three as Duff leads the squad with 37 goals while Noah and Eli Falkenberg have 17 each. Seniors Mason Salts and Will Eldridge have six goals each and junior Aydrial Taylor has four.

Noah Falkenberg is the main playmaker with 32 assists. Eli Falkenberg and Duff each have seven, and sophomore Owen Wise and junior Tanner Turnpaugh each have five. Sophomore goalie Cohen Miller and the Cougar defense have posted seven shutouts, including one in a 4-0 victory over Wabash in the regular season on Sept. 30.

Now, the Cougars (15-2-2) have a rematch with the unranked Apaches (10-4-1). Dave Falkenberg doesn’t put too much stock in what happened earlier as he thinks both teams were already starting to focus on their sectionals.

“Really, I don’t know that either team played great that night,” he said. “I expect a much better game and a much better all-around effort from both teams than what was played two weeks ago.”

The Cougars shouldn’t bank on winning just because they controlled the first encounter. Carroll knows all about overturning results in the postseason. The Cougars got thumped by Faith Christian 7-2 in the regular season, then upended Faith 4-3 to open the sectional. Then in the sectional final, they came back from an early hole.

“To me, one of the biggest things that’s different about this team, and one of our part-time assistants reiterated it … we got down 2-0 to North White … in less than 10 minutes,” Dave Falkenberg said. “And he actually said in the past, a Carroll team would have folded down 2-0 and we never got down, we never got upset with each other. To me the biggest thing that our team has this year is that we’re mentally tough.

“I feel like more than ever, I’ve had to do the least amount of making sure our heads are in the game. I don’t know if [last] Saturday afternoon was nerves or the fact we were facing a team that had put us out the last two years, but we were able to calm down and score the next four and really gather ourselves. To me that said a lot about the pride that we have and the mentality that our team has this year.”

Dave Falkenberg thinks this is the best team Carroll’s ever had. To win today and move on to a game against either No. 1 Park Tudor or Liberty Christian in Saturday’s regional final he wants to see the Cougars start fast, move constantly and finish set pieces.

“Wabash, they’re a really good possession team, they move the ball well and we’ve got to make sure we move and be in good defensive position,” he said. “Our biggest thing that we’ve focused on through sectionals is our job is to focus on us, not worry about the refs and the fans and what the other team is doing but play our game.”

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