It’s finally here.
All year long there have been hopes that at some point the South Webster boys soccer team and the Northwest boys soccer team would face one another.
Now, that dream has become a reality as the two teams are slated to play Wednesday night in the regional tournament.
The Mohawks have mounted a remarkable season, winning their first SOC and district title since 1993. Northwest has done it with relative ease, scoring at least three goals in every game but one.
Only twice have they played in a game decided by a goal, as the offense and defense for the Mohawks has been lights out over the course of the 2017 campaign.
“The SOC was big for us, and obviously playing in a district championship,” Northwest head coach Josh Keeney said. “But now, going to regionals is really big. I think we’re ready, and I think they know how big this game is for everyone.”
Northwest defeated North Adams in the district finals game 6-1 to clinch a regional berth and an eventual match with the Jeeps.
It was business as usual for South Webster this season, as the Jeeps continued their dominance in the SOC I. South Webster also stockpiled their schedule early in the year, in hopes of preparing for a late season playoff push.
“We’ve really tried to play a tough schedule,” Jeeps head coach Corey Claxon said. “We’ve played both Athens and Alexander that’s in the Division II regional semifinal and we did alright against them.”
“I’m just hoping what we’ve done all season long has prepared us for this game.”
South Webster has faced adversity throughout the year, most recently in their last match against Lynchburg-Clay.
The Jeeps went down 2-0 in the first ten minutes of the match, but rallied to win 4-3 and earn a trip to play against the Mohawks in the regional tournament.
Claxon said that win over the Mustangs taught his team a lot of things.
“You can get down, but still come back and win a game,” Claxon said. “Our guys did that, and it probably convinced them that it can be done.”
Comparing both team’s schedules, South Webster has certainly had to endure some trials and tribulations facing some tough competition.
Yet, Claxon doesn’t think that makes a difference in this match.
“Just because Northwest hasn’t played as many close matches, that doesn’t mean anything,” Claxon said.
Keeney agrees, saying the margin of victory that his teams have so often enjoyed have just given Northwest more to get excited about.
“I think it’s good for Webster that they’ve been in close games and played some really good teams,” Keeney said. “But, honestly I think beating teams pretty well and handily, I think our kids have got really good confidence heading in thinking they can beat anyone right now. It can go both ways.”
Both teams enter this regional tournament game with plenty of offensive firepower, and enough defense to dominate matches.
In fact, both teams have a lot of similarities in how they approach the game.
“They’re a lot like us,” Keeney said. “They try to keep possession and they look for their speed guys up top, and I think both defenses are kind of similar. The midfields are really solid on both teams, and our forward play is unbelievable on both squads.”
Shiloah Blevins and Sam Holstein, who combined to score all four of South Webster’s goals in their 4-3 victory over Lynchburg-Clay, are a new challenge for the Mohawks.
“We haven’t seen two forwards as good as their two forwards all season,” Keeney said. “We’ve seen one here or one there, but both of them together it’s something we haven’t seen all year.
“We’ve worked on it all week in practice on keeping those guys in front of us, and I think if we can keep them in front and not let them get behind us I think we should be okay.”
On the offensive attack for Northwest, Claxon worries about what the trio of Harald Rundquist, Evan Throckmorton and Tyler Webb could do if they get some space.
“I do worry about their speed up front,” Claxon said. “We’ve had some teams with speed, but I know they’re exceptional and they’ve been able to get out in front of about every team they’ve played.”
In a game that pits so much offense against two talented defenses, it could come down to the goalkeepers for both sides.
Freshman Tanner Voiers for South Webster played a great match in the latter half of the contest against Lynchburg-Clay, remaining locked in and keeping his head up even after falling in an early hole.
Voiers rebounded to make several crucial saves, and has shown that he has the ability to lead his team even as a ninth grader.
For the Mohawks, they will start Billy Crabtree in goal. Crabtree was injured for most of the season against Northwest, but was able to lock down North Adams throughout the district finals and made several key stops in that game.
It has been an inspired week of practice for both schools as they prepare for the biggest match involving SOC schools all season.
“Valley was kind enough to let us use their facility and get a little more practice on turf,” Keeney said. “We don’t play as many games as Webster has on turf and so forth, so we went over there and got a little more used to it and had an awesome practice.
“The kids are pumped up, the kids are excited, and hopefully they can carry that over to the game.”
As for the Jeeps, they have been hard at work trying to maximize the most of their chances on the offensive end.
“Offensively, we’ve continued to work on our shooting,” Claxon said. “I know we’re going to have to make the most of our chances, and so we’ve been at it here and just trying to tighten up on little things that might make a difference.”
In a match with big postseason implications for both teams, one Scioto County and SOC school will come out on top to advance in the regional tournament.
The match is set to start at Waverly High School on Wednesday night at 7 pm.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer