Eagan's Cullen Willox loses the head of his stick as he fires a shot in overtime against Blaine. Photo by Loren Nelson
It’s amazing what half a roll of tape can do for someone.
For Cullen Willox, Eagan's senior midfielder, it can do wonders -- such as help the Wildcats outlast Blaine, the No. 2-ranked team in the state, 12-11 in double overtime.
While the game was dripping with drama, there was even more behind the scenes.
Midway through the first overtime, Willox bulled his way in front of the net, found a crevice and fired a shot. The ball flew into the back of the net, but the shot also sent flying the head of his stick. It plopped down within the crease, and with Willox's teammates mobbing him, the referees had no choice but to wave the goal off and continue play.
“It was pretty deflating,” Willox said.
Eagan coach Bob Felter said Willox refused to switch to a different stick. So Willox trotted back to the bench for a little equipment rehab in the form of more tape.
“I was pretty nervous [that the head would fall off again], so I put on about half a roll,” Willox said.
The sloppy conditions raised havoc with most everyone's equipment. A steady drizzle of rain softened field and brisk winds kept the players stiff and cold. Once the cleats tore into the sopping grass and dirt, the mud started flying and mistakes became abundant.
The Bengals took advantage of the more secure footing in the first half by jumping out of the gates with an early lead and all the momentum. Junior Tyler Cline scored a quick one within the first minute that got things cooking for the Wildcats. From then on to the end of the first half, it was all Blaine. They Benals scored nine goals in that first half, and they certainly weren’t letting up on the gas at all.
Eagan scored three straight goals -- from Mark Woodcock, Michael Kukulski and then Woodcock again -- in the opening 90 seconds of the second half.
“[This team] really doesn’t give up on anything,” Willox said.
Whether it was the soaking field or Eagan’s hot start to the second half, Blaine never regained its grip on the game. The Bengals held a three-goal lead going into the final eight minutes but turnovers became a huge problem, including two costly ones down the stretch. Sure enough, three more quick ones from Eagan, including one from Kukulski that tied it at 11 with just 40 seconds left in regulation, had Blaine treading water.
Then came Willox’s heroics in the second overtime.
“He’s just an animal,” Luke Westrum, senior starting goalie for Eagan, said. “That was such a great ending.”
It’s a more than unfortunate ending to Blaine’s tremendous season. Coming into this game, and hoping to send the seniors off on Senior Night with a celebratory win, the Wildcats were undefeated and had vaulted all the way to No. 2 in the state. Led by their senior midfielder Mac Nadeau, Blaine was looking to polish off what would’ve been its second perfect season in just four years.
-- Jonah Steinmeyer
Eagan senior midfielder Cullen Willox capitalized on his second chance at the game-winning goal in the second overtime of a thrilling 12-11 win over previously unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Blaine on Wednesday, May 22, at Blaine High School.
Willox, Eagan coaches and players and their fans all thought the game was over once his shot found the back of the net in the first overtime. But along with the ball came the head of Willox’s stick, landing in the crease and forcing the referees to wave off the goal. Not long after, though, Willox redeemed himself on his second chance, again bull rushing the net and scoring from close range to give No. 3-ranked Eagan the win.
Blaine junior Tyler Cline scored five goals, two of which came in the first quarter to help give the Bengals a big early advantage. Eric Zickermann added two goals to give the Bengals a commanding 9-4 lead going into halftime.
Senior Michale Kukulski, Eagan’s leading goal scorer, led the charge to get the Wildcats back into the game. His fourth-quarter goal with just 40 seconds left on the clock capped the Wildcats' comeback bid, tying a game that Blaine seemingly had all but sealed at 11.
Eagan's Mark Woodcock added three goals.
Ever since a loss to crosstown rival Eastview back on May 9, Eagan has been on a tear, winning four straight entering Wednesday's matchup.
Blaine ends the regular season on a sad note during its Senior Night. The Bengals finish 12-1 but remain in position to make a long postseason run.
-- Jonah Steinmeyer
1. Cullen Willox, Eagan
Willox, a senior midfielder, may have been quiet early in the game but he finished as the hero. His first goal came at a pivotal moment in the fourth quarter, when the Wildcats were making their charge. But his final goal -- the one that actually counted -- sealed it and brought home the win.
2. Tyler Cline, Blaine
Unfortunately for the Bengals, Cline’s best performance of the season went for naught. But the junior midfielder tossed in five goals along with one assist, registering his highest points total of the season in perhaps the biggest game they played all year.
3. Michael Kukulski, Eagan
Kukulski has been Eagan’s ace-in-the-hole all season and continued that trend tonight with four goals. He stayed physical and aggressive on offense when the rest of his Wildcats teammates may have been staggering due to Blaine’s early attack. His clutch scoring was the reason the game was close in the waning moments.
-- Jonah Steinmeyer