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Carroll’s Owen Duff takes a shot against Western during the teams’ game Tuesday at Russiaville. Duff scored twice as Carroll won 2-0 in its first game of the season.

RUSSIAVILLE — Carroll’s soccer squad didn’t waste any time getting on the scoreboard in its first game of the season Tuesday afternoon at Western. The Class A No. 13-ranked Cougars hit the net 75 seconds into the game and put the Panthers on the defensive immediately.

It didn’t end up as a romp as Western got gradually more into the game. But Carroll made the early lead stick and emerged with a 2-0 victory as the Cougars look to follow up the 2021 fall campaign which saw them win 16 games, a sectional title and a regional semifinal before bowing out.

Owen Duff scored both Carroll goals, both on assists from Eli Falkenberg.

Carroll scored right out of the gate. Just more than a minute into the game, the Cougars broke into a counterattack and found wide open space behind a high Western defensive line. Eli Falkenberg’s pass put Duff free on the near left and Duff got around Western goalie Keegan Tedder to score.

“We caught them a little flat footed,” Carroll coach Doug Falkenberg said. “A good little through ball tough and when Owen gets a breakaway, he’s usually going to finish it.”

The Cougar attacks kept coming, though Carroll didn’t score again in the first half.

“Carroll definitely got off to a hot start,” Western coach Chris Hosier said. “I told them before the game that any one-on-ones, [the Cougars] have a strong, fast, physical forward. They’re going to capitalize on him and our back line may not be ready. I have a freshman keeper and we weren’t really prepared and they started off hot and we weren’t really able to bounce back from that.

“We had opportunities the second half but we still couldn’t get them in.”

Carroll liked facing a physical opponent in its opener. The Cougars are still trying to figure out the best way to replace three key players off last year’s squad and rework the defense in front of goalie Cohen Miller.

Dave Falkenberg said he liked his squad’s “Effort and intensity. It’s always interesting when you get a little bit closer to the bigger cities, the game gets a little rougher, which is not a bad thing — we enjoy playing that way — but it’s always a good way to start because it definitely got physical and I thought we kept our heads, which is really good.

“We had moments of really good possession. Obviously, I like a clean sheet when you’re trying to figure out defense. Cohen had one one-on-one and he made the stop. We’ll take a clean sheet, we’ll take a win.”

Carroll kept getting opportunities in the first half but didn’t get many on target and didn’t score. The Cougars finally got some breathing room in the 72nd minute. A long throw by Eli Falkenberg deep in Western territory functioned like a cross or a corner kick and Duff flicked in a header from inside the six-yard box.

Tedder finished with three saves for Western (1-1).

Western got more looks in the second half but didn’t get a shot on target to force Miller to make a save until the 62nd minute. Miller made three saves in the final fourth of the game.

“We had opportunities going through the middle, but they were still trying to cram down the middle too much and they have a center back [Noah Falkenberg] that’s stopping every one of them,” Hosier said. He wanted more width from the Panther attack instead of forcing the ball one way. “Our strikers are definitely struggling trying to poke it down the middle and if you don’t get shots on goal until 20 minutes left, you’re not going to win the game.”

The Cougars found areas to focus on after the opener.

“We probably had, I’d say 90% of our scoring back [from last season] with Eli and Owen,” Dave Falkenberg said. “Them getting their finishing touch down [is a priority] because we probably could have had a few more in the first half, especially on some set pieces that we didn’t quite finish. For a work in progress, I felt our defense held its own, but we’ve got work to do.”

Western got more chances as the game wore on but its players also grew increasingly frustrated.

“I hope they learn that there are multiple ways to respond, especially if you have any sort of bad reffing or bad play by your part, and how you’re going to respond and maintain your composure for 80 minutes,” Hosier said. “I felt like it was 40-50 minutes of ready-to-go soccer, where you’re not going to win a game if you’re not ready to go 80 minutes.

“And then, how am I going to capitalize if we do get to counter, how are we going to capitalize with speed and keep the ball at our feet instead of kicking it way too far out in front of us.”

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