MILWAUKEE — All season long, Madison Conduah has looked sleek, slick, talented and intelligent in his role as a primary source of offense for the Oregon boys soccer team.
Then came Saturday afternoon — and just when the Panthers needed a breakthrough, the senior forward found a whole new gear.
Conduah scored a pair of second-half goals and set up a third to lead the Panthers to a 3-1 victory over New Berlin Eisenhower in the WIAA Division 2 state championship game at Uihlein Soccer Park.
As it turned out, the team that built its 20-2-2 season record on lock-down defense — posting a state-record 16 shutouts, 15 of them in the last 17 games — took the WIAA’s golden trophy home because of the explosive play of its offensive leader.
“He stepped up and played at a different level than he had all year,” Oregon coach Chris Mitchell said of the 5-foot-10 Conduah, who finished the season with 24 goals. “We needed that.”
Mitchell rested Conduah for the final five minutes of the opening half, giving him a chance to rest his legs — and, more importantly, a chance to clear his mind after coming up empty on a pair of golden opportunities.
“The game was getting a little chippy, so I kind of needed to take everything in, refocus mentally, get my legs back and come out strong for the second half,” Conduah said. “It really paid off.”
Refreshed and refocused, Conduah made a series of moves on the left side to get around Eisenhower’s Josh Crubaugh, and then sent a shot past senior goalkeeper Jordan Powell for the game’s first goal at 54:02.
“I think he had his back turned and didn’t realize that I was right behind him,” Conduah said. “I kind of beat him to the ball. He tried to play his keeper but I got there first, and just kind of tricked the keeper and it went in the back of the net.”
His second goal came on a 1-on-1 breakaway charge after his ever-present teammate, junior midfielder Collin Bjerke, sent him a perfect lead pass for the goal at 67:34.
The play, Bjerke said, was a result of the chemistry the duo have developed playing alongside each other since the fifth grade.
“Whenever he’s making a run, I know he’s going to get the ball,” Bjerke said. “I tried to put some spin on it and he was right there.
Conduah had a chance at a third goal, but a hand ball by an Eisenhower defender deflected his shot from inside the box. McCombs converted the penalty kick at 70:05, breaking the game open.
“Our message at halftime has been about tweaks all year,” Mitchell said. “These guys have been so successful this year because of their ability to take those words at halftime and put them into action in the second half.”
Eisenhower spoiled what could have been a 17th Oregon shutout at 79:20, when sophomore forward Adam Joda one-timed a shot from the top of the box, following a feed by sophomore forward Jake DeFrance.
The Panthers allowed only three goals in their final 19 games. After giving up nine goals in their first three contests, Oregon allowed just five more goals the rest of the season.
Adding another shutout to the total would have been nice, but bringing home the Panthers’ first title since 2013 and third in school history was more than enough to make up for the disappointment.
“We wanted the shutout,” Conduah admitted. “That’s something we pride ourselves on this season. But after it happened, we collected ourselves and put the clamps on again.”
Senior goalkeeper Duncan Morgan made two saves as the Panthers fulfilled a prediction Mitchell made to his team following its 6-1 loss to Whitefish Bay in the state final last fall. He told the Panthers they’d return to the very same spot a year later — and that time, they’d head home as champions.
“It was right after the loss,” Conduah said. “It’s stuck in our head ever since.”
Eisenhower earned the second runner-up finish in school history. The Lions lost in the final in their only other state appearance, in 1997.
Oregon 0 3 — 3
New Berlin Eisenhower 0 1 — 1
Second half — Or: Conduah, 54:02; Conduah (Bjerke), 67:54; McCombs (pk), 70:05. NBE: Joda (DeFrance), 79:20.
Shots: Or 10 (Conduah 3, Hendrickson 2, Bennett 2, McCombs 1, Russell 1, Kluck 1); NBE 11 (Imig 3, DeFrance 2, Peharda 2, Prodoehl 1, Plecha 1, Joda 1, Casarez 1). Shots on goal: Or 8 (Conduah 2, Hendrickson 2, McCombs 1, Russell 1, Kluck 1, Bennett 1); NBE 3 (Imig 2, Joda 1). Saves: Or 2 (Morgan); NBE 5 (Powell). Corner kicks: Or 4; NBE 2. Offside: Or 6, NBE 0. Fouls: Or 12; NBE 15. Records: Or 20-2-2; NBE 17-4-1.