Liberty High Makes History With Emphatic Substate Final Win to Secure First State Tournament Appearance
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NORTH LIBERTY – Matt Harding had a word with his soccer pupil Cooper Saul on Wednesday afternoon.
“Nobody even knows who you are,” the first-year Lightning boys’ soccer coach said with a laugh.
If the junior midfielder/defender was some sort of secret weapon before Wednesday’s Class 3A substate final, the word is surely out now.
“Honestly, he is one of the best players,” Harding said after Saul scored his first two goals of the season in the first half of ninth-ranked Liberty’s 10-0 blowout victory over Fort Madison at Liberty High School. “He is just so technically gifted and I have known these guys for years. Probably going back a decade. He has just always been such an amazingly-gifted player, so to now see this happen for him, I hope it gives him some confidence.”
The win delivered Liberty High (9-8) to the state tournament for the first time in the brief history of its boys’ soccer program, which is in its fifth season of competition.
“I am obviously very proud that we are the first to make state,” Saul said. “But honestly, we just came out there and we knew how to beat them.”
Saul got the scoring barrage in the seventh minute, the first of two Liberty goals within a 43-second span.
He added his second goal in the 27th minute, which pushed the Lightning advantage to 3-0.
“We were ready to go,” Saul said. “As soon as got up two, three we could see them kind of shutting down.”
All season, the scoring prowess from the Saul family has been displayed by senior Hayden Saul, who entered the contest with a team-high 16 goals this season.
After Cooper got the Lightning on the board, Hayden joined the fun with one in the first half and two in the second.
Hayden’s third goal not only gave him a “hat trick,” it generated an enforcement of the “mercy rule” by extending Liberty High’s lead to 10-0 with 3:07 left on the clock.
Considering the score was already 9-0 in the 51st minute, the score that sent everyone home almost felt overdue.
“I had space,” Hayden Saul said. “I haven’t shot from distance in a while, so I just let one rip.”
Cooper and Hayden were not the only members of the Saul clan to find the back of the net against Fort Madison.
A third Saul brother — Forrest — scored twice in the second half and much like Cooper, they were his first tallies of the season.
All in all, the Saul brothers combined for seven of Liberty’s 10 goals.
It was the first time that all three had scored in the same match, even counting the youth soccer level.
“It means a lot, especially Forrest,” Hayden Saul said. “He hasn’t had a goal in three years. It is just impressive to get him two.”
Junior Flori Gembo added two scores, while sophomore Roman Riggs added one for Liberty High which will open its first state tournament Tuesday at Cownie Soccer Park in Des Moines.
For a Liberty senior class that lost its freshmen season due to virus restrictions, closing its prep careers as the first group in school history to reach the state tournament brings added satisfaction.
“That is what I came here to do,” Harding said. “And I am just glad to see them deliver on it. Now we continue going and we see how far we can take this thing.”