On Tuesday night, fans, parents, and spectators were treated to one of the best high school soccer environments this area has had in recent memory as the defending SOC II champion Northwest Mohawks hosted the Wheelersburg Pirates it what already feels like an instant classic of a match.
The crowd was incredible from the Mohawks student section being loud and vocal throughout various points of the game to the Northwest band performing in order to give their team and fans an extra boost. Fans lined the fence near the Mohawks field house and concession area to be able to watch this monumental soccer game in Scioto county.
There were plenty of opportunities in the first half for both teams to get on the scoreboard. Early on, Northwest senior Chase McClay missed a header from Evan Throckmorton’s corner kick to keep the score tied at 0-0 with 26:30 left in the first half. Just four minutes later, Wheelersburg sophomore Carter McCorkle missed a shot as well on a pass that came from Aaron Jolly’s corner kick.
The first goal of the night wouldn’t come until there would be 12:16 left in the first half as Athan Temponeras found the back of the net to put his team ahead 1-0 and silence the home crowd for the time being. Throckmorton was awarded his second free kick of the game with 8:45 left in the first half but missed on the attempt, just as he had the first.
Things were starting to go in the Mohawks favor as the half time whistle approached, but Chaydan Holbrook from Wheelersburg was able to find the back of the net with just 3:15 before half to give his team the 2-0 advantage and give the home crowd a sense of uneasiness. The score would remain the same heading into halftime.
It seemed as if the level of intensity was vamped up a little bit heading into the second half from the Mohawks attackers, maybe none more so than Chase McClay. For the entire second half and for portions of the first half, McClay was relentless in his pursuit of the ball near the Pirates net. His relentlessness paid off when at the 27:35 mark of the second half, Throckmorton found McClay for the Mohawks first goal of the night to cut the Pirates lead in half at 2-1 and give the home crowd some life.
McClay’s goal not only gave the crowd some energy, it reinstilled a sense of urgency into the Northwest players. Throckmorton would use that energy in a myriad of ways in the second half, mainly by following in McClay’s footsteps and using that energy to channel an inner level of relentlessness. That is why less than three minutes after he found McClay for their first goal of the game, Throckmorton took the ball all over the field in an impressive unassisted goal that tied the game at 2-2, giving new life to the Northwest team, and a sense of concern from Wheelersburg who previously held a 2-0 lead.
Throckmorton continued his high level of play throughout the remainder of the match, including on a shot that went just barely wide right with 18:45 left in the match. A few minutes later, Aaron Jolly’s goal scoring attempt was saved by Northwest’s goalie to keep the game tied at 2-2 heading into the final ten minutes of play.
The last ten minutes were when things got very interesting. Athan Temponeras was threatening to score inside the Mohawks goalie box, just as he had been doing all night, but this time Temponeras was fouled on a bang-bang play on the far side of the field. This meant the Pirates would get a penalty kick to try and regain the lead, and who else to take it but Aaron Jolly. Jolly, who missed a penalty kick earlier in the season in their Pirates home tie with Minford, was trusted by his coaches to do what was necessary and make the kick to put the Pirates in front. With 8:47 left in the match, Jolly found the back of the net to give Wheelersburg the lead once again at 3-2, again instilling a sense of concern amongst the home fans.
With 5:40 left in the match, desperation mode set in for Northwest. Throckmorton tried advancing the ball to the relentless McClay, who stayed on the attacking front the vast majority of the match, before McClay collided with Wheelersburg goalie Eric Green in a brutal looking collision. In a stunning scene, Green got up from off the field and it was apparent immediately that something was off kilter. Blood was pouring down the right side of Green’s face as he hammered his fist into the field, not because he was severely hurt, it seemed, but because this meant he would have to come out of the match. With only five minutes left in the match, players from both sides were willing to do whatever it took to stay in and finish the game. With blood pouring down his face, Green was in no shape to remain in Tuesday nights contest. For the time being.
Green ran of the field and immediately went to the track where the Pirates coaching staff and Mohawks athletic trainers tended to Green’s injury as Chaydan Holbrook replaced Green in front of the net. In an absolutely stunning turn of events, Green was provided a new jersey, a headband, and his face was cleaned, all of which allowed him to reenter the field of play in a Willis Reed-esque moment on the sideline. Green was a hero for his willingness to play through a minor injury and his desire to win, and that is in part why Wheelersburg was able to hang on and win Tuesday night’s contest by a score of 3-2, knocking out the Mohawks from SOC II contention in 2018.
“I don’t know if he realized what his face really looked like” said Pirates head coach Jon Estep following his team’s victory Tuesday night, “I told the guys after the game, ‘That’s what this brotherhood is about, that’s what this team is about. It’s you, unfortunately, putting your body out there on the line for your team.’ Eric showed that in true form and fashion tonight. The way that he came up out of that play. There was nothing wrong with the play, he just took a boot to the face. For him to come back in, it shows you how much he loves his brothers. That’s what we’re trying to preach, and that’s where these guys are right now.”
Northwest head coach Josh Keeney was pleased with his team’s effort on the night, even if they weren’t able to come out on the winning side. “I thought we had good intensity, I thought we played really well” said Keeney, “I thought we played really well the entire match. We had a couple mistakes that cost us early and we had to fight back the entire second half. I thought we had the momentum up until the very end. Obviously, the PK, seemed like it could have went either way, I think it slowed our momentum down and changed the game a little bit. But I’m proud of our guys. Down 2-0 at half, a lot of guys would fold, but our guys buckled down and made it a game, fun one to watch.”
This victory sets the Pirates up in pretty good position for the rest of the season that if they take care of business, they’ll come out on top as the lone SOC II champs after knocking Northwest out of the race with their win Tuesday night. “This gave us a cushion on Northwest” said Estep, “We know that we have to at least get one of these two in order to win the conference, or at least a share since Minford has some work to do against Waverly. For us, to get one of these next two means a share. Like everyone else in the conference, nobody really wants a share. So, we’ve got some work to do for Waverly, some rest to get before we go there on Thursday. They knocked us off 2-1 earlier in the year, but I like where we’re at as a team going into the final three games.” Start time for the first leg of Thursday’s double header between the Lady Tigers and the Lady Pirates is set for 5:30 p.m. with the boys’ game immediately following.
For the Keeney coached Mohawks, although they are out of the SOC race, there is still a looming postseason race they have to prepare for as the end of the regular season approaches. “That’s what we told the guys” said Keeney, “There’s 20, 21 schools in our district and 18 or 19 of them would want to be in your spot at 9-3 right now, you have nothing to lose. I know you just lost the SOC and that’s what you fight for every year. Going in, I think we should be the one or the two seed, maybe the three seed now that we have that loss. We have a shot at the district still, we just have to keep fighting and that’s our next goal.”
The Mohawks will go to New Boston Monday evening to face the Tigers beginning at 6:00 p.m. on the Tigers home pitch.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT