Two previous trips to the Class 3 state boys soccer tournament ended in disappointment for the Fort Zumwalt South Bulldogs.
On Saturday night [Nov.17], Zumwalt South’s Devin Livingstone, Braden Johnson and Luke Dillon made sure that, this time around, the final game would leave the Bulldogs and their faithful fans celebrating with unbridled elation.
Livingstone scored with about 23 minutes left in the second half; Johnson added a goal with three minutes to go; and goalkeeper Dillon helped Zumwalt South hold off Webster Groves 2-1 to win the school’s first-ever state championship at Soccer Park in Fenton.
The Bulldogs’ win helped erase their disappointment of finishing third in the 2014 and 2016 state appearances.
“It feels great [to win],” Johnson said. “We just had to work and prep for whoever the competition was and it worked out great for us.”
In the semifinal matchup on Friday, Nov.16, Zumwalt South [21-9] squared off against Van Horn, which was making its first trip to the Class 3 tournament.
The Bulldogs used their experienced front line of Livingstone, Johnson, Garrett Dickey and Bryce Gamache to rattle the Van Horne defense. Zumwalt scored three goals in the first half and added a pair of second-half goals to roll to a 5-2 semifinal win. Danny Bloomfield, Dickey, Gamache, Johnson and Livingstone all scored as the Bulldogs used a balanced attack to wear down Van Horn.
“It was the first time that specific team had been to the Final Four with that coach, so I thought being there the third time around definitely helped us because the boys were more prepared and way more relaxed,” Zumwalt South coach Jim Layne said. “ A couple of them had already been there so they kind of knew what to expect and were able to just go out and play.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Bulldogs had to face Webster for the championship. Despite Webster carrying the action most of the first half, the game was scoreless at the break.
“We were kind of able to weather the storm in the first half and then Livingston had a goal that was disallowed about two minutes before he scored the first goal,” Layne said. “It was kind of a hand ball [play] more or less.”
Livingstone made up for that disallowed goal with an acrobatic header off a corner kick from Gamache with about 23 minutes left, putting the Bulldogs on top 1-0.
“He just jumped a little bit and pounded [the ball] in the back of the net with his head, and that was huge,” Layne said.
Johnson scored on another great pass from Gamache in the final three minutes to make it 2-0.
“[The goal] really solidified our lead because there wasn’t much time left,” Johnson said.
Dillon, the Bulldogs’ fearless freshman keeper, allowed just one late Webster goal from Luke Barbee in the final minute and helped the Bulldogs clinch that elusive first state championship.
“Luke’s been amazing all year,” Layne said.
Johnson noted he was not really sure how to act or react when he first realized the team had finally won state. “It’s still amazing and like I’m still thinking to myself ‘Wow, we just won state. It’s an incredible feeling.'”
Layne had T-shirts printed up for the team at the start of the season that said “Unity and Tradition.”
Those qualities summed up the special 2018 championship weekend and season for the Bulldogs.
“To finally win one, it’s pretty special,” Layne said. “A huge moment for the players, their families, and alumni players. I think when it was all over with and I got to see the alumni and the families being there, it really kind of summed up what we’ve been trying to create at South High for a period of time.”