WAVERLY — In all honesty, this could have been — and some observers indeed argue should have been — a complete and total Minford Falcon flyaway.
However, when you’re still playing soccer in late October —and now into November — all that matters is you’re one goal greater in each match.
For the Falcons on Saturday at Waverly’s rave Raidiger Field, they “Cranked” it up in the second half — and especially late against the upset-minded Peebles Indians, in the Southeast District Division III district championship match.
That’s because Minford, suddenly trailing 1-0 at halftime, muscled for three second-half goals in a matter of 23 minutes and 51 seconds — as Adam Crank drilled home the game-winner with two minutes and 45 seconds remaining.
The end result was the Falcons clipping the Indians by a 3-2 score, defending their Division III billing as the bracket’s top seed, and raising their stellar record to 18-1-0.
Most importantly, though, the Falcons —for the seventh time all time — are back in the Division III regional tournament, winning their first district title since 2011.
The others occurred in 1983, 1984, 1998, 2000 and 2008.
Afterward, Minford alumnus and Falcons’ first-year head coach Jacob Hackworth discussed the feeling of ending a decade-long district title drought.
“I’m just so proud of my guys, man. This means so much to us. First one in 10 years,” he said. “It’s a blessing. All the work which started in March, and this is just another stepping stone. We want to make it a tradition of being here, and Minford being a name that people recognize for soccer.”
Of course, though, ending any drought is never easy —and the Falcons first-hand experienced that on Saturday against the 13th-seeded Indians, which many objective observers viewed as an overwhelming underdog.
The on-paper predictors picked the heavily-favored Falcons for perhaps a rout in the district final —and the statistics actually didn’t lie, when you break down shots and shots on goal.
Minford held a commanding 27-6 advantage in shots, and a 15-4 edge in on-goal attempts —including in the opening half, when the Falcons forged advantages of 14-4 (shots) and 8-2 (shots on goal).
Unfortunately for the Falcons, Peebles goalkeeper Zane Porter —with already three tournament shutouts prior to Saturday — saved six first-half shots, with another doinking off the crossbar and yet another off the left post.
In fact, the Indians’ Evan Day scored an unassisted goal with 4:40 remaining in the first 40 minutes —meaning the Falcons faced some serious adversity for truly one of the few times all season.
“I thought if we could score early, we could blow it open and they would have to open up a little bit. But we fell into what they wanted to do,” said Hackworth. “At halftime, we talked about how it wasn’t easy right now, and how we haven’t had adversity this year. Peebles was going to come out strong, they are stingy in the back, and they are a much-improved team the second half of this season and this tournament run. So we knew it was going to be a competitive and close game, and we knew what their plan was to counter.”
But all the while, the Falcons forced the action and pressed the issue —finally getting goals midway through the second stanza just four minutes and 46 seconds apart.
However, the Indians didn’t retreat —and instead scored with 13:11 left to play, on a Mason Sims goal off a Corey Reed assist.
That’s when it was time for the Falcons to “Crank” it up, as the junior Crank — with the biggest goal of his career — left-footed a rocket to the right of Porter, and into the lower half of the net off a Myles Montgomery pass.
With 2:45 remaining, the Indians only mounted minor rushes from there — and never broke into the Minford defensive third.
Hackworth said his Falcons were both good and lucky, getting Crank’s go-ahead — and game-winner — to break the 2-2 tie.
Crank, in fact, had been progressively working his way back from an Achilles’ injury —as he missed the Athens match, which was Minford’s lone loss by a 2-1 count.
“Adam is coming off that injury, he played about 75 minutes today and the whole second half. The kid has heart. He just plays so strong and never gives up. I know he is playing through pain, and to get that late goal, it’s gritty,” said Hackworth. “That’s the mentality of our team. We don’t want to be one-dimensional. We had three guys score today.”
That scoring trio did not include senior standout forward and Minford’s leading point-producer Zane Miller, although Miller more than made up for not scoring in a variety of other ways.
“By Zane’s standards, he will say he had an off-game. But he is still putting a lot of pressure on the backs and spreading the ball out,” said Hackworth. “We’re just trying to play as a team, play team soccer and everybody contribute. That’s what happened today.”
Indeed it did.
The Falcons finally tied the tilt at 1-1 with 23:51 remaining — on an unassisted marker by freshman Gavin Downey.
Only 4:46 later, Downey assisted this time — on the 2-1 go-ahead goal by the fellow freshman Montgomery.
Hackworth said similar to the first half, Minford more than had its opportunities with seven shots on goal —including a Crank clang off the right post with nine minutes to go.
The second-half difference, of course, was the Falcons finished.
“We were winning the balls, nothing was hitting the ground, everybody was focused and the effort was high,” said Hackworth. “Probably 72 to 75 minutes of the game, the ball was in their defensive end. They got a 1-0 lead and they went to packing it in (defensively). From there, our philosophy changed from playing the ball to the forwards to keeping possession. They were dropping eight people behind the ball, so let’s keep it at our feet and work it up. It paid off. We hit the post three times, some balls didn’t roll in and they have a really good goalkeeper, but we’ll take the three goals we got and move on.”
Speaking of moving on, the Falcons’ dream season lives on into November.
Minford pitched a perfect 10-0-0 in capturing the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship, but Saturday’s triumph indeed validates the majority of the campaign.
“Peebles is a good team and was here for a reason, but this is what you are supposed to do as the No. 1 seed,” said Hackworth.
Speaking of top teams, the Falcons faced the Hiland Hawks —the annual East District powerhouse —in Wednesday night’s regional semifinal at Grove City High School.
First touch was set for 7 p.m.
The Hawks are a regular regional tournament club, and easily rolled to their latest district championship — 7-1 winners and routers of West Muskingum.
Hackworth had confidence in his Falcons facing the Hawks, which also employed the 4-3-3 formation —which Valley and Peebles played as well.
“What Hiland does is nothing new to us, although they like to play more possession,” said the coach. “We’ll need to play our best game, but we’re confident in what we have and what we do. Anytime you are playing soccer in late October or early November, you’re doing something right.”
* * *
Peebles 1 1 —2
Minford 0 3 —3
P — Evan Day (unassisted), 4:40, 1st (1-0 P)
M —Gavin Downey (unassisted), 23:51, 2nd (1-1 tie)
M — Myles Montgomery (Gavin Downey assist), 19:05, 2nd (2-1 M)
P — Mason Sims (Cory Reed assist), 13:11, 2nd (2-2 tie)
M —Adam Crank (Myles Montgomery assist), 2:45, 2nd (3-2 M)
SHOTS — Peebles 6, Minford 27
SHOTS ON GOAL — Peebles 4, Minford 15
SAVES — Minford 2 (Levi Coriell), Peebles 9 (Zane Porter)
CORNER KICKS —Peebles 4, Minford 5
FOULS — Peebles 12, Minford 7
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved