WHEELERSBURG — In the end, and by boiling down to a one-on-one matchup, Minford’s Zane Miller —simply put —got the better two times of Wheelersburg goalkeeper Gavin Rase.
But, as a result of that breakdown, the Falcons are now officially — and quite significantly — one up.
That’s because the senior standout striker and Minford machine Miller — coming back from cramps, bumps, bruises and even a dreaded red card on Tuesday — mustered the visiting Falcons’ two goals against the Pirates, including the fortunate tiebreaker in the final minute and 42 seconds.
With Miller’s markers in the final 34:48, and by the Falcons blanking the Pirates for the match’s final 71, undefeated Minford captured a dramatic 2-1 Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilt inside electric Ed Miller Stadium—and took sole possession of first place from the three-time defending division champion Pirates.
That’s correct, as the Falcons — trailing 1-0 for almost 37 full minutes — soared past the Pirates and raised their perfect records to 7-0, and 5-0 in the SOC II.
And, another feather in the Falcons’ cap — the Pirates’ last loss in the regular season, before last Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout in their most recent bout at Valley, was against Minford by a 3-2 count in 2019.
Two full years, and two full days (Sept. 12, 2019) to be exact.
“Seventh career win, but definitely the biggest win so far. All the credit goes to our kids,” said an elated first-year Minford coach Jacob Hackworth. “That goal is icing on the cake for our comeback effort in the second half, but I am super-proud of our guys. They didn’t quit, they just kept playing, kept going, kept believing, and we got the result.”
Indeed, Minford withstood Wheelersburg —and the Indian Summer heat.
The Falcons outshot the Pirates on goal 8-3, but none were bigger than Miller’s game-winner with 102 seconds left.
That’s when he rocketed one right at Rase from about 20 yards out, and Rase, trying to make the save, had the ball bounce right off his hands —and squirt innocently enough into the net.
Of course, it sent the Falcon faithful into a frenzy — and simply stunned the Pirates.
No doubt it was a Miller hard hit, but one arguably which could have been — and should have been — stopped by Rase.
But that’s the way the ball bounces sometimes, and the Falcons found some luck when they needed it the most.
Both coaches commented about the Falcons forcing the Pirates to make a defensive play —and right there, they didn’t.
As a result, Wheelersburg fell to 4-2 —and to 4-1 in the league.
“That was one that you expect the keeper to make, but we always preach to put the ball in frame, put the ball in play and play hard and good things will happen,” said Hackworth. “We outshot them tonight, so eventually something is going to go in.”
“I don’t know if he (Rase) took his eye off the ball or what, but it was there and we thought he had it. I don’t know, we didn’t discus it afterwards,” said Wheelersburg coach Jon Estep. “But we’re always talking about making plays and we didn’t make a play. It’s like any other sport. Put the ball in play and make the defense make a play. We didn’t and they go home winners. It’s unfortunate for us. One play can determine the outcome of a game, and obviously it did today in terms with that much time left. That didn’t determine the whole outcome, but on the scoreboard it did.”
In that instance, Miller got the ball to bounce the Falcons’ way off Rase’s hands.
However, at the 8:23 mark, it appeared as if Miller had received a second yellow card —which equates to a soft red card, and a subsequent ejection from the match.
But only a few minutes later, Miller —who had just walked off the pitch —returned, and burned the Pirates with that game-winner.
Hackworth was asked about Miller’s red card, which was repealed, as the coach explained that the official inadvertently had written the wrong jersey number down on his list of awarded yellow cards.
So similar to Monopoly’s “Bank error in your favor”, this yellow —or red —card complication turned out favorable for the Falcons.
And, Miller made the most of it — despite being marked up, knocked down, and cramping and grimacing in pain.
He easily leads the team in goals, and added two Tuesday to an already decorated senior season.
“I thought Zane stepped up big for us. He was cramping bad, but he fought through those. They (Pirates) were playing a 4-5-1, and they were just clogging up the middle and making it rough on him,” said Hackworth. “They made a really good adjustment from their past games and they had a good plan, but I was really proud of Zane for all he did today.”
Before his heroics inside of two minutes, Miller made his first impact only 37 minutes and six seconds earlier.
Minford freshman Myles Montgomery got the benefit of a foul call inside the goalbox, and Miller took the automatic penalty kick — a mere dozen seconds after the match’s 45th-minute mark.
“Myles is just an animal. He is only a freshman, but you wouldn’t know it. He is 5-10, probably 150. He just bangs his body around, gets in good position,” said Hackworth. “He has drawn a couple of PKs for us this year, but this one was huge. I know Zane scored the goal, but getting the PK was just raw effort.”
Miller stepped up and beat Rase in the lower-right corner, forging the 1-1 tie —and ending Wheelersburg’s 36-minute and 12-second stretch with the 1-0 lead.
Hackworth said the Falcons were in a similar position against Waverly —with a 1-0 halftime deficit.
“Same thing. We were the better team in the first half and outshot them, but Wheelersburg was winning the balls. That was my only complaint with us at halftime. Their effort was above ours. We have to be first to the ball. If we raise the bar and match their effort or put it above theirs, our skill will get us to where we need to be,” said the coach.
Where the Falcons got to for the final 17 minutes and 40 seconds was a one-man advantage, as Wheelersburg was forced to play with 10 men after Tyler Sommer was given his second yellow card —coming in a span of only four minutes and four seconds.
Sommer was ejected with the soft red, and Hackworth said the “field opened up more for us”.
“I think we settled down and really took advantage,” he said.
Indeed, much more of the match shifted into the Falcons’ offensive end —and ultimately Miller slammed the door.
Estep said that was in contrast to the opening 10 minutes, when Wheelersburg forced the Falcons to press —and the Pirates posted their goal when Braxton Rase registered one, winning a one-on-one against Minford keeper Levi Coriell.
Gavin Rase threw the ball out, and the Pirates —catching Minford in a transition situation —played it over the top of the Falcons.
“We made some adjustments to our alignment, because we knew we had to neutralize the speed they have up front. They have some of the quickest guys in the conference up there. They have been scoring at a high rate, so we wanted to limit the number of opportunities they had, but also give ourselves a push,” said Estep. “We felt good going into halftime, but in the second half, we played more defensive, just to try and stop their speed.”
Indeed, as the Pirates pushed, the Falcons pushed back — both literally and figuratively.
It was a hotly-contested physical affair —with three yellow cards being issued apiece.
“That’s SOC II soccer, man. That’s two good league teams beating and banging, and neither team was dirty. Yellow cards are part of the game,” said Hackworth. “Twenty-two guys playing hard.”
And, it all boiled down to a single shot —and a one-on-one which Minford made stand up to go one up in the SOC II.
“Anytime you have to play down a man against a quality team like Minford, it gives them an advantage. We did a great job for 12 of the 14 minutes we played down one. We didn’t cover Zane (Miller) well enough on that last shot and gave him too much space,” said Estep. “He was able to put a good shot on frame and he got the bounce.”
“Their effort at times was better than ours, but we just got a couple of big breaks late,” he said.
* * *
Minford 0 2 —2
Wheelersburg 1 0 — 1
W —Braxton Rase (Connor Estep assist), 31:00, 1st (1-0 W)
M — Zane Miller (penalty kick), 34:48,2nd (1-1 tie)
M — Zane Miller (unassisted), 1:42, 2nd (2-1 M)
SHOTS — Minford 12, Wheelersburg 11
SHOTS ON GOAL — Minford 8, Wheelersburg 3
SAVES — Minford 2 (Levi Coriell), Wheelersburg 6 (Gavin Rase)
CORNER KICKS — Minford 5, Wheelersburg 0
YELLOW CARDS — Minford 3, Wheelersburg 3
RED CARDS — Minford 0, Wheelersburg 1
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved