When Roland Hockstedler scored a goal that gave Tomah a 3-0 lead in the 79th minute, it seemed like a nice way to cap a convincing opening-day triumph.
It turned out his goal was absolutely, positively necessary.
Aquinas responded with goals in the 81st and 84th minutes before the Timberwolves closed out a 3-2 Mississippi Valley Conference victory Tuesday at Veterans Field.
“Other than the period when they scored their two goals, we controlled every aspect of the game,” Tomah coach Scott Conzemius said.
The Timberwolves probably wouldn’t have sweated out the final 10 minutes had their goalkeeper not been flattened early in the second half. With Tomah leading 2-0 in the 52nd minute, goalkeeper Zach Jorgensen went down in a collision that resulted in an Aquinas yellow card.
Conzemius replaced Jorgensen with senior forward Riley Habelman. When asked how much goalkeeping experience Habelman had, Conzemius replied, “Since middle school, none. We’ve not really had backups the past couple of years, and he’s known he was going to be the emergency backup.”
For the next 27 minutes, however, the Timberwolves protected their novice goalie by keeping the ball far away from the net. The dominance paid off when Charlie Lisi fed Hockstedler for Tomah’s third goal.
After that, Conzemius said his team went on “auto pilot too quick.”
Ryan Schneider scored Aquinas’ first goal in the 81st minute, and the Timberwolves thwarted a Blugolds breakaway attempt a minute later before a Daniel Del Carpio goal at 83:05 sliced the gap to 3-2.
Aquinas didn’t get another scoring chance after that.
“We just had to relax,” Conzemius said. “I just told them, ‘finish it out, we’re in the lead. They can panic, we can be calm.’ After that second goal, they never seriously threatened the net in any shape or form.”
It didn’t take long for the Timberwolves to score their first goal of the season. It happened in the seventh minute, when Baily Hyatt scored off an assist from Hockstedler.
Tomah pushed the lead to 2-0 in the second period, when Gavin River slammed a point-blank shot off the chest of Aquinas goalkeeper Jack Gauger and popped the rebound into the net.
The Timberwolves outshot Aquinas 27-5. Conzemius said during the first 80 minutes, his players did a good job of “working it into space quickly and putting them on their heels.”
Conzemius said it was important for the Timberwolves to play well to start the season. They are coming off a 2-11-0 season in the MVC, and the next two games are at home against West Salem and River Falls, a pair of quality opponents. He said the next step is learning how to finish off opponents.
“After four losing seasons, we’re re-learning how to close out games,” Conzemius said.
The River Falls matchup is a 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 nonconference contest at Veterans Field.