After taking a little time to adjust to a new surface, the McGraw Central boys’ soccer team stayed on track to make some history Wednesday night.
Playing on turf for the first time since pre-season scrimmages, the third-seeded Eagles weathered some early domination by No. 2 Fabius-Pompey on Homer Central’s Butts Field and went on to score a 2-1 win in the Section 3 Class D semifinals.
In winning its 12th straight game and extending its unbeaten streak to 13-0-1, McGraw — ranked 12th in the state in Class D — improved to 16-1-1 and earned a berth in Saturday’s sectional championship game against top-seeded Poland.
A win over the Tornadoes, at 17-1-1 the state’s sixth-ranked squad, would give coach Jamey Crumb’s squad what all concerned believe would be the first sectional championship in the program’s history.
While the Eagles were getting used to the quicker pace on turf, the Falcons, who finished the season at 14-2-3, dominated the early going. A key moment came 11:10 into the contest, when sophomore goalie Tyler Card beat oncoming F-P forward Joe Alnutt to the ball, got a piece of it and forced the ball, and Alnutt, harmlessly to the right.
McGraw’s first flash of offense came 16 minutes in when senior forward Jordan Cowen whistled a shot just wide of the far post from the left side. The Eagles opened the scoring with 22:43 left in the half as senior forward Josh Card’s corner kick from the right side went in off a Falcon defender for his 19th goal of the season.
“I told them going in not to mess around with free kicks because they can change a game,” Crumb said. “I was speaking more defensively, but it so happened that after they dominated the first 10 minutes as we got used to the turf we got a corner kick, it went in and changed the momentum.”
“Jordan has his spot and Dylan (Bridger) moves wherever he can,” Josh Card said. “I just put the ball where I thought Dylan was going to run, their sweeper hit it and it went in. I’ll take it; a goal’s a goal.
“They didn’t think we were going to score, that they would come in and dominate. It looked like that in the beginning, but all it takes is one good chance.”
THE EAGLES SCORED what proved to be the winning goal just over 11 minutes later, as junior forward-midfielder Kevin Shorts controlled the ball deep on the right side and sent a cross to senior midfielder Bridger who put a low shot to the right corner past Falcon junior goalie Jack Klawitter from the middle of the field near the top of the box.
“I looked up and saw there wasn’t anybody filling the gap, said Bridger of his eighth goal this season. “I took the initiative to fill it, Kevin gave me a good ball right in the middle and I placed it. My left foot is a little weak but I knew it was going in. When it came off my foot I knew I had the back of the net.
“After that they definitely got frustrated; their heads were down. We started slacking off a little, though, and at halftime we talked about playing hard and were able to pull it out. It was an exciting game; Fabius-Pompey is one of the best teams we’ve played.”
Tyler Card went up in a crowd to grab a corner kick in the final minute of the first half to keep his team maintain its two-goal advantage heading into halftime.
“Leading 2-0 or 2-1 is the worst, once the other team gets momentum,” Crumb said. “That’s how we got our first two. Fortunately we haven’t let in more than one goal in any game this season, but we downplayed that and told them that two wasn’t enough, that we have to keep fighting and possessing the ball and keep putting pressure on them. It was good to see us get up and put heat on them, even after they scored.”
THE FALCONS UPPED the second-half pressure and almost got on the board on the second of two consecutive corner kicks from the left side by Falcons junior forward Will Giegerich. Card punched the first one away, but the second went over his head and banged off the crossbar on the far side and ricocheted harmlessly away with 26:20 left in the game.
“The first one he put to the near post,” Card said. “so I was there for the second one and he put it up high toward the far post. I jumped, but it went over my hands. Luckily it hit the crossbar.”
McGraw just missed making it a 3-0 game with 15:15 left as Klawitter tipped a header by senior forward/midfielder Carter Towsley over the crossbar.
Fabius-Pompey finally got on the scoreboard with 10:10 left as freshman forward Jameson Andrews scored his eighth goal of the season from close range on the left side off an assist from sophomore forward-midfielder Kewan Trotman.
Tyler Card then made the save of the game with 6:15 left, sprawling to grab the ball after Andrews came from the left side at close range and deflected a direct kick by Alnutt from 30 yards out.
“That one scared me a little,” Card said. “I saw (Alnutt) take the kick and went to my right to get it; then number four came across and I had to throw myself off to the other side, dive down and hope I got my hands on it. I did.”
That was the final threat the Falcons were able to mount, the white-clad Eagles streaming onto the field to celebrate as the horn sounded to end the game.
Tyler Card ended up making eight saves to Klawitter’s 10 as the winners had a 17-10 shot advantage.
“WE HAD SOME early opportunities, but any time you’re playing a strong team and make a mistake they’ll take advantage of it,” Fabius-Pompey coach Matt Neuner said. “That’s what happened; we made two mistakes, they capitalized on both and it changed the course of the game. Hats off to McGraw. Good teams finish their opportunities. They are, and they did.
“One thing that’s the calling card of our program is that we’ll continue to fight, down two goals, tied or up two. I’m very proud of the boys; they never gave up. Adrian Vilardi (senior forward), our two-year captain, has played great for us all season. Joe Alnutt played well, and so did Jameson Andrews.”
“Tyler came up big tonight,” Crumb said. “He hasn’t been tested that much all year, but we go against him offensively in practice and know how good he is. We lost a few seniors last year, three defensive starters. Brendan May (sophomore) hasn’t played a lot of soccer but has worked hard and improved a lot at outside back. I moved Spencer Welsh (senior) to outside back from stopper, (senior) Devon Livermore is the starter at stopper, Devon Tuttle is the sweeper and does a phenomenal job and Tyler anchors it all.
“I had a feeling our defense would be good but you never know. Giving up seven goals al year, and just one in three sectional games so far, is impressive.”
Saturday’s game will be McGraw’s second straight appearance in the Class D sectional title game after a 1-0 loss to rival Cincinnatus last fall. “I’ve heard from people who have seen Poland, and they have good control in the middle and some fast players. We’ll have to mark up and pass better than we did in this game’; we especially didn’t pass as well as we should have.
“We haven’t reached our goal, which was to win it, yet. We’re a step closer, and hopefully we can set some new goals after we win it.”
“We went out and proved that a small school like us can compete,” Bridger said. “We made it back to the finals and hopefully can go further. We lost some kids after last year but came back stronger and have our eyes on the gold.”
“We’re back, and this time we’re going to win it,” Josh Card said. “This team wants it.”