WAVERLY – What was expected to be the match of the year between two Scioto County soccer teams certainly lived up to the hype.
In the end, it was South Webster who downed Northwest 2-1 in the regional tournament.
The rain didn’t keep fans from filling the stands at Waverly for one of the biggest turnouts of support for both schools in recent memory.
“It’s crazy, it was the biggest soccer crowd I’ve seen since I was playing or coaching for 30 years,” Northwest head coach Josh Keeney said. “It means a lot for our community.”
While the weather didn’t keep supporters from attending the match, it did impact play down on the field.
With wet turf and an unpredictable ball, ultimately the conditions became costly.
Tied at 1-1 in the 76th minute of play, South Webster’s Ty Collins sent a shot from nearly 30 yards out that bounced off the hands of Northwest keeper Billy Crabtree and in for the go-ahead goal.
“It’s usually routine for Billy, but with the surfaces it took a skip on him and went in,” Keeney said. “I hate to lose that way, but that’s soccer.”
Collins noticed he had an opportunity to score, and was able to put a solid foot on the ball and send a nice shot in the direction of the goal.
“He just looked up and saw he had a shot, and took it and had enough on it,” South Webster head coach Corey Claxon said. “On a wet night, the ball can bounce.”
“I think we all kind of saw the same thing. Go for it, and Ty is one of those players where he can take those shots. He’s got a strong foot, and the ball had some dip on it too so I think the keeper had to adjust in mid-air.”
Over the course of the year, Collins hasn’t had a lot of chances to capitalize on scoring opportunities. Yet, when he has gotten those opportunities, the midfielder has made the most of them.
“Ty has been a player that has played center mid, and hasn’t got as many chances at the goal,” Claxon said. “The shots he does get, he’s made count. I’ve been proud of him all year and what he’s done, and he was big for us tonight.”
The big score with four minutes to play was the difference in the match in what was an absolute battle to the wire as both squads traded blows back and forth for the entire 80 minutes.
It was the defense that shined for both teams in what was essentially a low scoring output from both sides given the success of their offenses this season.
South Webster saw a great performance from their defensive backfield and midfielders. In particular, Jacob Ruth and Michael Andrews did their part in stopping a potent Northwest offense.
Andrews was even credited with two saves on defense, stepping up as the last line of defense for the Jeeps.
“Michael Andrews had two saves off the line, getting back as a defender,” Claxon said. “He just does great things like that for us, he’s such a smart defender.”
Zach Robinson and Caleb Cunningham also were able to withstand the punches that the Mohawks pack on offense. Then, the speed of players like Dee Thompson, Braden Martin and Devyn Coriell helped stretched the field and spread Northwest’s defense out.
Gabe Ruth played a solid 40 minutes for South Webster as well, and the defense pieced together one of their best performances of the entire season.
“I thought the defense played real well,” Claxon said. “To hold those guys to one goal, only one other team has done that all year.”
The Mohawks had some success on defense themselves, and at times were able to challenge the defense of the Jeeps with their speed in the open field.
Mason Campbell and Austin Speer showed their versatility, contributing on all areas of the field for their team. The two used their speed to capture loose balls and pressure ball carriers for the Jeeps all over the pitch.
In the defensive backfield, Jacob Goodson and Hunter Berry stood tall. Goodson and Berry were able to run with South Webster forwards Shiloah Blevins and Samuel Holstein all night, limiting what they could do with possession of the ball.
While Blevins did put up five shots on the night, the Northwest defense was able to hold Holstein to just one shot.
Juniors Trent Deemer and Cody Mosley were an excellent counter to the speed of the Jeeps’ forwards, and Chase McClay also was able to showcase his speed on several possessions.
Tyler Webb started the match off firing, with two shot attempts in the first two minutes of the match.
Then, in the seventh minute, Evan Throckmorton almost found Harald Rundquist for a cross and a shot opportunity. Keeper Tanner Voiers thwarted that chance, but it looked early on like the Mohawks were going to control the pace of the match.
“Throckmorton was a handful,” Claxon said. “Towards the end of the game, we just had to assign a man to him to try and slow him down. He’s just that good of a player.”
Voiers came up big yet again in what has been a phenomenal debut season. The freshman keeper saved nearly 90 percent of his opportunities, stopping six of the seven shots he faced.
Blevins had a chance for the Jeeps in the 15th, but couldn’t cash in as Crabtree came up with a nice save for Northwest.
It looked as though Blevins would score several minutes down the road in the 29th minute, but officials called a foul on a collision between Blevins and Crabtree.
The goal didn’t count, and Crabtree was settled in at goal for the Mohawks early on.
At the end of the first half, the match was scoreless. Both teams had some chances, but couldn’t find the net early.
Northwest looked to establish the pace and possess the ball early in the second half, and were able to do that. Throckmorton had two shots in the 50th minute, and Rundquist missed to the right in the 57th.
In the 61st minute, South Webster came right back by retaking control. The Jeeps broke the scoreless tie with a goal on a corner kick. Collins set up Blevins with a low ball that snuck past the Mohawks and in for the first score of the match.
“It turned out that corner kick was big for us,” Claxon said. “You put the ball in the air, and anything can happen.”
Now trailing late in the match, Northwest was in uncharted territory. The Mohawks hadn’t been in many late game situations all season, and had 19 minutes to respond. But Northwest rose to the occasion just eight minutes later in the 69th minute when Rundquist evened the count.
“We hadn’t really been down all year, so I just wanted to see how our guys would respond,” Keeney said. “Harald kind of took it into his own hands there, scored and got our guys back up.”
But in the 76th, the shot from Collins sealed the deal and closed the book on what has been a storied season for Northwest.
With every closed book though, a new story is written and the Mohawks have the pen in their hands moving forward with the framework they’ve established over the past few years.
The senior class for Northwest, who garnered 45 wins over the past three seasons alone and 19 in 2017, will forever be remembered as one of the most successful groups to play soccer for the Mohawks. Berry, Campbell, Goodson, Speer, Webb, Dillon Gambill, and Austin Slusher depart arguably the most improved soccer program in the county over the past decade.
“I told them nobody gave us a chance to do anything this year, and obviously we won the SOC and the district,” Keeney said. “I thought we played a heck of a game for a regional semifinal, so I’m just so proud of the guys and especially the seniors I’m losing.”
Northwest won’t be waiting long to get back out on the field, which is what Keeney talked about after the match to his players.
“You guys want to be back and be in contention for the SOC next year and playing in big games like this, basically it starts tomorrow,” Keeney told his players.
“They’re on board, and I told them if they aren’t playing other sports they needed to be playing soccer.”
Claxon had nothing but respect for the Mohawks and the fire they brought to the match.
“You can watch a team and kind of see how they are,” Claxon said. “But until you play them, you don’t really see. Fans could tell too, it was a tough game.”
“Northwest played so hard, and it took everything we had to win that game. I guess this is why you don’t quit, you battle right to the end and on a night like tonight you take shots because you never know what will happen.”
It’s the second time in school history that South Webster will advance to a regional final match. The Jeeps will play Grandview Heights on Saturday.
“They’re probably the best team in central Ohio, so we’re going to have our hands full,” Claxon said. “We’re going to look at them and see what we can do.”
The regional final showdown is set to take place at Waverly on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 on Twitter @BSpicerPDT or at Facebook.com/ReporterBenSpicer