WHEELERSBURG — Over the years, the boys soccer matchups involving the South Webster Jeeps and the Wheelersburg Pirates have never disappointed the fans in attendance.
On Saturday afternoon, that fact proved to ring true once again as South Webster and Wheelersburg duked it out for 80 full minutes in what proved to be an absolute dogfight at Ed Miller Stadium.
Ultimately, however, the result of said dogfight ended up as a neutral outcome for both teams, as the Jeeps and the Pirates battled to a 1-1 tie in a thrilling and intense battle between the two rivals.
For Jon Estep, the veteran head coach was thrilled with the effort that Wheelersburg — who moved to 3-2-3 on the year with the tie — put into the affair.
“We talked before the game about how we haven’t played a lot of games like this one,” Estep said. “It was unusually hot, but that provided a different element against a South Webster team that is really good. We knew that they didn’t have a loss on their record, but (on Saturday), we had some opportunities that we were able to capitalize on, and we felt good going into halftime with where we stood. We got them frustrated a little bit and forced them to take some unwarranted shots that they didn’t want to take in the first or second half. It was a great effort from my guys.”
As for Corey Claxon, South Webster’s leader was certainly hoping for a different outcome than the one that occurred on Saturday.
“This was a disappointing result to say the least,” Claxon said. “We definitely had our opportunities to win this one, but it just didn’t happen.”
From the outset, South Webster, as it has for most of the season, controlled possession quite well as the Jeeps played on the Pirates’ end of the field for three-quarters of the entire first half.
However, when the Jeeps got inside the 20-yard line, their formidable offensive attack was shut down by an excellent defensive effort from the Pirates. Over the course of the contest, South Webster collected 27 shots to Wheelersburg’s 4, but the Pirates fended off five near-misses from the Jeeps on goal and blocked several additional attempts behind a gritty defensive backline that provided air-tight protection on the backline.
“We did a good job of attacking and protecting,” Estep said. “When they beat our primary guy, we had a secondary guy that was right there. We lost a little bit of focus on where their runner was down the middle of the field there in the second half, but for the most part, we’re pleased with where our defense was at and the effort that they put out today. They’re growing up before our eyes this year.”
It also helped that Dylan Burton — one of just three Wheelersburg players on the 2017 roster — was on top of his game once again. In all, Burton swatted away nine South Webster shots en route to saving 90 percent of the Jeeps’ shots on goal in the contest.
“Dylan made a couple of great saves there in the back,” Estep said. “He’s been aggressive this year. He’s had a different focus about him this year for us. Even in the Northwest game, where the score was lopsided, he made several great saves there that kept the score from being a lot worse than it was. We’re happy with where he’s at and the leadership that he’s providing back there.”
And with South Webster’s body language getting worse after each missed attempt, it began to show in the Jeeps’ shot selection.
“I don’t think many of the shots we took were quality shots,” Claxon said. “Overall, I felt we needed to be more selective because Wheelersburg has a good keeper in Dylan Burton.”
While South Webster continued to struggle in breaking down the Wheelersburg defense, the Pirates, despite an effective ball-control effort from the Jeeps, found a pair of creases.
Even though Aaron Jolly’s excellent shot missed just left of the goal in the 20th minute, Athan Temponeras responded five minutes later with a great tab of his own. The junior took an excellent through ball past the Jeeps’ backline in the 25th tally, chased down the through ball, and somehow tapped a shot past South Webster’s Tanner Voiers as the pair made tremendous contact while going for the ball to give the Pirates a 1-0 advantage. The Jeeps’ Braden Martin nearly had the equalizing goal in the final 30 seconds when the junior caught Burton out of position on the near side, but Martin’s shot missed wide and ‘Burg maintained a 1-0 lead into the halftime break.
“Athan’s still trying to get his feet under him after playing football the last six years,” Estep said. “He came out to soccer this year, and his footwork’s not quite there yet. However, he has a physical presence about him, and we need to be physical and go win balls. He challenged that ball and did a great job of going up and getting it over Tanner Voiers’ head there.”
After Temponeras’ goal, Wheelersburg attempted to hold South Webster at bay by dropping all but its three frontline players further back as a strategy to hold the advantage. Even with that well-played strategy, however, the Jeeps’ ball control and offensive firepower proved to be too much to keep off of the scoreboard, as Shiloah Blevins — who received a pass deep in the end zone — made an excellent pass to Sam Holstein in front of the goal. Holstein then followed by pounding a ball home in the 52nd minute to even the score at 1-1.
“We were able to equalize in the second half with a nice ball that Shiloah played back in front of the goal to Sam,” Claxon said. “It was a nice combination. However, we were unable to create any more golden opportunities like that the rest of the half. Some thought we just didn’t have the intensity needed. I’m not sure, but this wasn’t our best game for sure.”
Over the final 25 minutes, both units battled to a coin flip, with each unit having excellent chances to obtain a game-winning goal. However, free kicks from Holstein and Wheelersburg’s Brice Robnett, which came in the 59th and 61st minutes, respectively, each sailed above the opposing teams’ respective goal as the duo settled for the tie.
With the tie, the Pirates, who are 2-1-1 over their last four affairs, will look to continue the momentum and progression that has been made in 2017 when Wheelersburg faces New Boston in a road bout on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“We have just made it a goal to progress every week,” Estep said. “Outside of the Northwest game, we have been right there within one score of everybody that we’ve played. To come out here and play a really good South Webster team, which is considered to be the premier soccer program in the area year in and year out, along with us over the years and Northwest this year. We’re happy with where we’re at right now, and we’re showing glimpses of improvement. We’ve still got some work to do, but I like where we’re at right now midway through the season.”
As for South Webster, Claxon and the Jeeps, who are 4-0-3 on the year despite facing a brutal schedule that has consisted of Athens, Jackson, and Minford so far in addition to the Pirates, will look to obtain a more positive result against a strong Zane Trace squad at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening in South Webster.
“Possession of the ball was definitely in our favor, but the final result doesn’t show that,” Claxon said. “I should have expected a tight game at their place because it usually is. Looking at the bright side, we remain undefeated after seven games and will get another strong test that will help us down the road when we host Zane Trace on Tuesday.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7