SOUTH POINT — When the cards are put down on the table, and the chips are in the center of said table, it’s important to never give up — no matter what the odds of winning are.
After taking a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute off of a crafty finish from Kade Conley, the New Boston Tigers looked to be in excellent shape through the first 57 minutes of a Division III Sectional Semifinal soccer matchup between the Tigers and the South Point Pointers.
However, behind a pair of goals that were scored in an eight-minute span, New Boston went from a 1-0 lead to trailing by a 2-1 margin by the 65th minute.
But Greg Mauk’s group never gave up.
With time winding down in a do-or-die contest, Tyler Caldwell and Kyle McQuithy collected on a brilliant throw by Caldwell that McQuithy redirected into the back of the net, which tied the score at two apiece.
Then, after two grueling overtimes from both units, New Boston and South Point battled to the very last penalty kick, where CJ Craft, a sophomore that has only been playing the sport of soccer for two years, sent a ball home to send the New Boston crowd into an absolute frenzy as the Tigers broke a 2-2 tie by winning in sudden death, 4-3, on penalty kicks Saturday afternoon at South Point High School in a thrilling soccer match that has a place among one of the better matches played across Southeastern Ohio.
For Mauk, the thrilling finish, and the ups and downs that the game provided, certainly showed — even after hopping a fence to avoid a shower from an ecstatic New Boston unit.
“It’s the most exciting game that I’ve ever coached,” Mauk said, his voice beginning to tremble with emotion. “It’s the most proud I’ve been of these guys. They played for 110 minutes, and then stuck it out on the PK’s after we fell behind 1-0. To have a sophomore in CJ Craft, who is only in his second year playing soccer ever, to come up big in that situation and finish the game off, is amazing. It doesn’t seem real.”
Over the first 20 minutes of play, the New Boston offense showed off its impressive ball skills as the Tigers won the possession battle. While shots from McQuithy in the third minute, along with Caldwell in the 11th tally, sailed high, Conley came right back in the 15th minute by capitalizing on a misplayed ball from the South Point defense. The senior not only took the ball, but diced through two Pointers on the near side en route to finishing a ball high in the upper 90 on the far side of the field en route to giving New Boston an early 1-0 lead.
“When you have four guys like Kade, Kyle, Malachi (Potts), and Tyler up top, you’re going to get good scoring opportunities,” Mauk said. “They stayed aggressive and kept putting the pressure on South Point’s backline. The scoring plays made by Kade in the 15th, where he stayed alert and kept putting pressure on their backline, and in the 71st, where Tyler made the excellent throw-in to Kyle, who got a great head on the ball, were tremendous.”
As the first half came to a close, South Point began to advance with its own solid offensive attack. However, behind a gritty effort from the New Boston defense, the Pointers failed to obtain a clean shot opportunity in the opening half of play as the Tigers took a 1-0 lead into the halftime break.
“Our defense really stepped up and made it difficult for South Point to get a clean shot off, and Kyle was there to make the saves when South Point got through,” Mauk said. “The guys made several great defensive plays along with Kyle’s saves that seemed to really frustrate them.”
In the second half of action, the Pointers, however, made adjustments that proved to work against the Tigers’ defense. But Kyle Sexton, who has played beyond his years as a freshman, was having none of it. South Point collected shot attempts in the 48th, 49th and 51st minutes of action, but on each occasion, Sexton denied the Pointers of the chance to tie the score en route to collecting a save counter well into the double-digit range. The freshman also made two brilliant stops in the 92nd and 109th minutes of action that saved the ultimate result for New Boston.
“I have to remind myself that Kyle (Sexton) is a freshman,” Mauk said. “He doesn’t look like it and he doesn’t play like it. He’s just been outstanding this season and has had as good of a freshman season as anyone can ask for. He’s poised, he plays hard, and he commands the field. He made several incredible saves (on Saturday) and then came up big in PK’s with two huge saves that allowed us to take the win.”
Still, South Point kept coming — and eventually got on the scoreboard. In fact, after a 58th minute goal from Drew Smith, and a 65th minute blast from Luke Tyree that followed back-to-back misses in the 61st and 62nd frames of action, it looked as if the Pointers — who defeated New Boston 5-3 on Sept. 16 after overcoming a 3-2 halftime deficit — would do the same on Saturday.
But in the 71st minute, New Boston made sure that wasn’t about to happen again.
After a well-played ball gave the Tigers possession around the 20-yard line, Caldwell geared up and fired a wonderful throw that landed perfectly in between four South Point bodies to McQuithy, who cleverly used his head to put together the wonderful finish that tied the score and eventually, sent the game to overtime.
There, nothing less than an exciting duel took place across not only one, but two overtimes as both teams took their turns trading runs down the field. Sexton’s beautiful save ultimately led to a header attempt from Kade Conley in the 89th frame, but his header attempt sailed high of the goal. Malachi Potts’ shot in the 108th tick and the second overtime was saved as the game ultimately headed to sudden death in a wild set of frames.
However, New Boston had to do even more digging in order to work its way out of an early deficit in PK’s. The Tigers, however, did just that, as Sexton made two additional standout saves that were followed by goals from Caldwell, Conley, and McQuithy, which gave New Boston a 3-2 advantage. Even though South Point evened the margin at three all on its next penalty kick, Craft rendered the Pointers’ efforts moot with one kick as the sophomore pounded home his opportunity at paydirt on the far side of the net to send the New Boston crowd into a frenzy.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Mauk said. “They never quit. It was a collective effort.”
With the win, New Boston moved to 3-8-2 on the year and avenged its early loss to the Pointers in the process. The Tigers will get a chance to knock off another Ohio Valley Conference competitor when the Tigers face Rock Hill (12-0-2) on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Rock Hill. Rock Hill defeated Valley, 1-0, in an out-of-conference affair last week but New Boston defeated the Indians, 5-2, in the pair’s final SOC I meeting of the year in New Boston back on Sept. 26.
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7