MINFORD – With wind picking up at the outset of Thursday night’s second half, one had to think – even if briefly – that a sudden pop-up thunderstorm might sweep its way into Minford.
But, unfortunately for the Falcons, the only lightning that struck on Thursday was the South Webster Jeeps scoring two quick goals in a matter of 47 seconds.
So while the temperatures cooled down, the Jeeps turned the heat up, and certainly made the Southern Ohio Conference Division II boys soccer championship chase that much more interesting with a 3-1 victory over the Falcons.
In fact, it was South Webster’s second such 3-1 triumph over Minford, with the initial meeting occurring exactly a month ago.
With the season sweep, the Jeeps played themselves back into SOC II title contention – as a loss to the Falcons would have eliminated them.
South Webster, while at 10-3-1 and now on a three-match non-losing streak, is more importantly at 6-2 in the SOC II.
The Jeeps will wrap up the regular season next week with winnable contests against Portsmouth West on Tuesday and at Northwest next Thursday.
Minford, meanwhile, which has handed league-leader Wheelersburg its only conference defeat, fell to 11-3-1 – and to 7-2 in the league.
That said, Wheelersburg is 8-1 in the SOC II, and…well…you guessed it, the 2019 SOC II championship comes down to Thursday’s tilt at Minford at 7 p.m.
The Pirates face the Falcons for one of two possible scenarios – assuming South Webster wins its two bouts next week.
A Wheelersburg win – or draw – gives it the outright championship yet again, but a victory by Minford means there will be a three-way tie for the SOC II title.
This is South Webster’s initial season in the larger-school SOC II, and head coach Corey Claxon was glad to know that next week’s conference clashes will now definitely mean something.
“This was a big win for us and we stepped up big with the win,” he said. “This keeps the chance alive for us to have a share of the SOC (championship), and gives us momentum going into the final stretch of the season. We have two matches that we need to win, and we’re obviously rooting for Minford to win that one (Oct. 10 match) with Wheelersburg. Minford beat them once, and now Wheelersburg has to come here. That will be a good game, and we will just wait and see what happens.”
What happened on Thursday was that the Jeeps rallied from a 1-0 deficit just seven-and-a-half minutes in, scoring their three goals in a span of 28-and-a-half minutes – including the final two only 47 seconds apart.
South Webster shut out Minford over the final 72 minutes and 32 seconds, allowing only seven total shots and two on goal – with the only individual shot being Brayden Davis’ marker that gave the Falcons their 1-0 lead.
The Jeeps frustrated the Falcons into 20 fouls, and simply dominated second-half possession once they went ahead 3-1.
Minford coach Dave Gampp said simply that his Falcons “just lost our focus”.
“On the first goal (of the second half), we had a backside lack of help and misjudged the ball. It’s hard when you are playing a really good team to drop your focus at all, and that’s what we did. We gave up one goal, then totally lost our focus and give up another goal 45 seconds later,” he said. “When you go down 3-1 against a really good team, it’s hard to get your focus back.”
South Webster seniors Gavin Bennett and Gabe Ruth combined to account for its opening two goals, as Bennett scored the goals off Ruth assists.
In breaking the 1-1 tie, just four minutes into the second half, Ruth brought the ball up the right side and down towards the corner, but then crossed the ball from right to left to Bennett.
Bennett beat Minford goalkeeper Jesse Cantrell, as that sequence resembled the Jeeps’ initial goal in the first half – in which Ruth and Bennett operated closer to the center, but still down deep in South Webster’s offensive third.
“It was a lot of team effort,” said Claxon. “We’re finding each other on passes to get those goals. Gavin (Bennett) and Gabe (Ruth) combined twice tonight, but I was proud of the way we played hard and we were working together. We had several chances where we got some quality shots on goal. We have a good team that can possess the ball. Anytime we can take advantage of that and get more opportunities, that usually pays off. I thought we did well with settling, finding each other, just good team soccer.”
And, you win as a team – and lose as a team.
Gammp spoke of the defensive breakdowns that led to the Jeeps’ first two goals, and just “the lack of focus” from the Falcons from South Webster’s initial goal on.
“We lost our focus when they tied it up. They love to take it deep into the corner and cross it back baseline. Backside help did not get there. They had two guys ready to kick the ball on the backside, whereas we only had one and we wasn’t even in position. It was just a total breakdown of our outside wings not getting back and our backs not focusing,” he said.
More often than not, after a goal is when a club either gains, or loses, its focus the most.
Less than a minute later, with 35 minutes remaining, the Jeeps made it 3-1 on senior Braden Martin’s unassisted tally.
The ball bounced back to Martin, as the Jeeps challenged Cantrell for an incoming ball – and Martin put the ball in the net with Cantrell pulled out.
From there, South Webster went on a possession onslaught, completely controlling the midfield and getting Minford all off its gameplan.
The Jeeps doubled up the Falcons in shots 15-7, as Minford’s only other shot on goal outside of Davis was a team try in the second half.
In fact, it wasn’t until the nine-and-a-half minute mark that Minford managed a second-half shot.
Jeep keeper Jaren Lower made just one save, but that was good news for South Webster.
“We started playing kickball. I despise kickball. I am a very possession-oriented coach, and Corey (Claxon) coaches the same way. I want the ball on OUR feet, moving the ball, under control, I don’t want the ball to go to the defense and get kicked clear, hoping someone else outruns it. I want to possess the ball all the way up and make good passes and make good through-balls. South Webster won the possession and they won the middle,” said Gampp. “We have three losses this year, and in all three losses, we lost the middle of the field. You have to win the middle of the field. If you are step off in the middle, that gives them an advantage every way about it. It can get ugly and that’s what happened to us tonight.”
Claxon said he moved senior Brice Robnett into the defensive back line, along with Tryston Robinson into the midfield.
Those lineup changes worked.
“We gave up one quick counter-attack in the beginning, where we just got caught and Brayden Davis is so fast he made a good shot. But that was our only slip-up all night. We were solid in the back, Brice Robnett has really shored things up for us there,” said the coach. “I also thought our midfield worked hard, and I give credit to Tryston (Robinson) and Aiden (Andrews) who both gave great efforts.”
Whether Thursday night’s triumph was an SOC II championship effort won’t be determined for sure for a week.
The Jeeps need to win their final two regular-season matches – and Minford win its one.
Gampp, although laughing at the distinct possibility, is seriously appreciative for the opportunity for a three-way tie for the championship.
Minford will host Wheelersburg on Thursday (Oct. 10) for all the proverbial marbles.
“South Webster is a good team, and we sure didn’t show the team that we are capable of being. But the crazy thing is we can beat Wheelersburg and have a three-way tie, which I don’t know has ever happened. That will be hilarious if it does,” said Gampp. “But we have to get our focus back. We still control our season. We have to collect our thoughts, come back with the best week of practice all season and get ready for Wheelersburg here.”
All because the Jeeps made that championship chase that much more interesting.
* * *
S. Webster 1 2 – 3
Minford 1 0 – 1
M – Brayden Davis (unassisted), 32:33, 1st (1-0 M)
SW – Gavin Bennett (Gabe Ruth assist), 23:28, 1st (1-1 tie)
SW – Gavin Bennett (Gabe Ruth assist), 35:54, 2nd (2-1 SW)
SW – Braden Martin (unassisted), 35:07, 2nd (3-1 SW)
SHOTS – South Webster 15 (10 on goal), Minford 7 (2 on goal)
SAVES – South Webster 1 (Jaren Lower 1), Minford 7 (Jesse Cantrell 6)
CORNER KICKS – South Webster 3, Minford 4
FOULS – South Webster 13, Minford 20
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