There it was, the breakaway Hiland was waiting for as the second overtime between the Hawks and Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans was winding down to the five-minute mark of the second overtime.
Hiland’s Sinjon Howell had a prime scoring opportunity to end the game, but it would be the Bishops celebrating a one-goal victory less than a minute later in a hard-fought and controversial district final showdown Saturday in Coshocton.
On the heels of dropping district contests to Rosecrans the previous two seasons, Hiland came out at the opening whistle a bit tentative. But when Jared Yoder was cut down on a slide tackle in the box, Derek Miller placed one to the right side of the net on the ensuing penalty kick (PK) to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead just ten minutes into the contest.
The lead seemed to relax the Hawks and get them back into a rhythm, but Yoder sustained a high ankle sprain on the play and did not return to the game.
Early on, it was the Bishops who were the aggressors, with a stiff wind and the big foot of 6’3” keeper Keagan McLaughlin, they kept the Hawks on their heels as his booming wind-aided kicks carried the Hiland defenders and found the feet of striker Michael Gibson with regularity. But after making some adjustments and gaining the lead, Hiland held Gibson in check and went to the break with a 1-0 advantage.
Coming out with a renewed urgency and the wind at their backs, Hiland looked to expand on their lead and put the pressure on Rosecrans early in the second period. But about fifteen minutes into the half center-back Braden Mast, who had been shadowing Gibson all night, took a sharp ball square to the face and he had to exit the game as the blood flowed freely from his nose.
Hiland had already lost Yoder, its best long thrower and senior wing and leading assist man, and Tyson Gingerich, the wing on the other side, had succumbed to leg cramps and had been in and out of the game in the second half. Defender Kurtis Yoder played a gutsy game, but also lost time throughout due to lingering hip and knee injuries. Gingerich had also been kicked in the mid-section early in the game as Rosecrans aggressive style featured a massive amount of contact and numerous injuries on both sides.
“It’s a strange game,” said Hiland’s Scott Bodiker. “Jared goes down on the PK on a cleats-up tackle, and that put us in some funny rotations that we’re not used to all night. It takes away the throw-in option that he’s so good at, and it just put us on the back foot all night.”
As Hiland nursed their injuries and its slim one-goal lead, Rosecrans finally cashed in when Gibson split the defenders with a nice through ball, and while he was stopped in the box, the ball dropped back to Weston Nern who netted the equalizer with just 15:00 remaining.
Hiland had the better chances throughout the rest of regulation, with one of the best being a Derek Miller charge with only 15-seconds left, but his shot sailed wide right from the 18 with pressure coming from his left.
After a back-and-forth scoreless first 15-minute overtime period, the two teams played well into the second, when Hiland’s controversial play of the game happened…
Or, didn’t happen.
With just over five minutes left in the second overtime, Howell made a great run and sliced inside the back defender and sealed him on his outside shoulder as Miller recognized it and threaded a beautiful ball to Howell’s feet. The senior avoided another defender as he cut sharply to his right and had McLaughlin well out of position away from the goal and was clear for a short shot to an open net. As Howell one-touched the ball ahead of him, the Bishops’ Marcus Browning came flying in from the rear attempting a tackle on the ball to no avail, but took out both of Howell’s legs from behind. The ball was then cleared and Howell laid on the ground as the entire Hiland bench and cheering section erupted in protest at the lack of a call and a what should have clearly been a PK.
In the aftermath, the Bishops raced down the field and the ball was deflected out of bounds. On the following corner kick Tucker Zemba elevated and placed a beauty of a header into the upper right 90 and a stunned Hiland squad could only stand in disbelief of what may have been.
“The game was the game we expected,” said Bodiker. “They’re going to sit back and defend, try to frustrate you, get the ball forward and maybe score on a set piece, just like they did.”
As for the controversy, as much as he disliked the lack of a call, it didn’t seem to surprise him.
“I thought we had one penalty kick tonight, and I felt Johnny (Sisson) and Sinjon both got fouled in the box, and they were all very obvious,” said Bodiker. “But the trouble is that once a referee calls one PK, they’re not very willing to call another one. And tonight, that human nature came into play.”
Even with the discrepancy on how the game was called, Bodiker wasn’t willing to place blame. “Refereeing is a tough job, and make no mistake, we weren’t good enough when we had chances.”
In the midst of everything that happened on the field, Bodiker feels for his 15 seniors, with whom he’s had a special bond.
“It’s a special group of seniors,” he said. “They’ve obviously had success on the field, but this is a group that knows how to set goals and work hard towards them. We didn’t play our best tonight, but I don’t think that will be the lasting takeaway from this bunch. It’s just a special group of guys. They’ve meant a lot to me the last couple years, both personally and I really appreciate what they’ve done for our program as well.”
Hiland bows out with a 15-3-2 record as the district runner-up. On the night, Hiland outshot Rosecrans 10-7, and had a 7-2 advantage on corner kicks, but it was the Bishops who made it count with the biggest conversion coming on the final corner.