September 24, 2019

By Scott Williams

WAUSAU – Nicholas Raasch moonlights as the reliable placekicker on the Wausau West football team on Friday night.

His full-time gig as a student-athlete with the Warriors, however, is as a midfielder for the soccer team at the school.

Stevens Point Area Senior High probably wishes Raasch would stick to football.

With a piece of the top spot in the Wisconsin Valley Conference on the line Tuesday, Raasch came up clutch for West with a pair of goals in a grinding 2-1 win over SPASH.

Both teams entered the matchup with one loss in conference play with the first round of WVC matches wrapping up.

“I’m always looking around and seeing where I can go (to find open space),” Raasch said. “This was very important coming off (a loss) against Marshfield last Thursday. We wanted to come back and be ready to play.”

SPASH caught the Warriors on their heels in the opening minutes and the result was an early deficit for them.

Owen Williams latched onto a through ball from Colton Thielman. He used his speed to get behind the defense beat West keeper Noah Knezic to put SPASH on top less than 4 minutes into the match.

That would prove to be the only chink in the armor of the Warriors back line, and more specifically, Knezic.

The senior keeper was unbeatable over the final 86 minutes of action. Knezic was called on the make a couple point blank saves on quality scoring chances for Williams.

“I think Noah was the difference in this game. He had some (saves) most keepers wouldn’t have had and turned out to be enough,” West co-coach John Czarnota said. “(Knezic) is having a great senior year.”

Knezic also benefited from the stout efforts of defenders Tim DeLoye and Lucca Tonelli who made his life a lot easier the rest of the way.

A less experienced team might have pushed the panic button after the early haymaker delivered by the Panthers. Instead, West went into attack mode.

Raasch was just the person to get them right back into the match. He beat the SPASH defense to a long pass from DeLoye.

Raasch snuck a peak and saw Panthers keeper Spencer Banks coming off his line trying to get to the ball first. All Raasch needed to do was chip the ball over him to knot the score at 1-1 just 21 seconds later.

“We did everything we wanted to and gave it right back,” Panthers coach Derek Bell said of the quick response by West. “No matter what game you’re playing when you get a positive start and get an early goal and that happens, it hurts.

“That changed the game and took the momentum away.”

Raasch wasn’t finished. Perhaps he caught the Panthers still thinking about seeing the lead vanish so quickly, but less than 7 minutes later the Warriors had the lead for good.

Gaining possession just outside the SPASH penalty area, Raasch acted like he was in the back yard kicking the ball around. He dribbled a couple times, turned and beat Banks again at 10:44.

Suddenly, the Warriors were in control.

“I just felt like I was at home (on the second goal),” Raasch said. “The quicker you can respond, the more momentum you can gain and the quicker you stop their momentum.”

Once the Warriors had the lead, the defense and Knezic took over.

With the wind at its back, SPASH regularly served the ball into the Warriors penalty area to create a few more scoring chances in the second half.

The only problem for the Panthers was finding an opening in the West fortress of DeLoye, Tonelli and Knezic, among others.

DeLoye and Tonelli constantly cleared balls or blocked shots. And any time a shot made it through, Knezic quickly came off his line and made sure he got his hands on the ball first.

“They’re a strong defensive team,” Bell said. “We been through games with them over the past couple years and this was no different than those. It’s going to be a tight game.”

The win moves the Warriors into a share of first place in the Valley with Marshfield at 5-1-0. SPASH drops to 3-2-0.

Coach Czarnota cautioned if West wants to claim the conference championship, they’ll have to get the job done primarily on the road in the second round of WVC play.

Scheduling issues forced a couple games to be switched to West in the first round of Valley matches, and enabled the Warriors to enjoy a lot of home cooking.

“First place is always the goal,” Czarnota said. “This team is worthy of pulling it together (for a title) if they stay the course and stay healthy.”

SPASH  1  0  –  1

Wausau West  2  0  –  2

First half: 1. SPASH, Owen Williams, 3:40; 2. WW, Nicholas Raasch, 4:01; 3. WW, Raasch, 10:44.

Saves: SPASH (Spencer Banks) 5; Wausau West (Noah Knezic) 6.