Sinjon Howell has a ton of talent on the pitch. The Hiland senior is a most capable ball-handler and scorer, and he has ravaged plenty of teams throughout his three years of varsity play for the Hawks.
But there seems to be something special when it comes to facing West Holmes.
For the third straight season, Howell knocked in the game-winning goal in a one score contest, and the Hawks came back from a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-2 victory over the Knights at West Holmes Tuesday, Oct. 18 in a game that was played with incredible passion on both sides.
Dave Zimmerly has brought the Knights’ program along quickly, the team improving rapidly as has transferred his passion and knowledge of the game to his players.
On the other side, long-time Hiland coach Scott Bodiker’s record speaks for itself, and the Hawks understand what it takes to win big games.
This was a big game, and the volume got amped up as fans came out in full force to support their respective teams.
They were not disappointed, as even in the midst of the tournament trail, these two teams delivered an action-packed game that was at times frenetic in its pace.
While Hiland may boast the pedigree and the better overall record, it would be West homes that would come out swinging.
After Hiland had a potential goal wipes off the scoreboard early when Derek Miller’s goal was disallowed for keeper interference, the Knights got the early edge when Grant Miller knocked one by Isaiah Yoder to give west Holmes a 1-0 lead. That lead grew to 2-0 later in the half when Leonardo Callienno drove a ball past Yoder. The Knights were taking it at Hiland’s defense, getting to the end line and making some quality crossing passes that were making it hard for the Hawks to defend.
Meanwhile, despite getting several direct kicks from close-up range, West Holmes keeper Drew Campbell was playing spectacularly in net.
However, it would be the fourth direct kick just before the half for Hiland that would give the Hawks momentum heading into the half, when Declan Howell produced a goal with six minutes remaining to draw Hiland to within 2-1.
That goal was the 1,000th goal Hiland has scored under the tutelage of Bodiker.
After getting a verbal lashing from Bodiker at the half, the Hawks came storming out of the gate and Derek Miller knocked in the equalizer just three minutes into the second half. Hiland kept up its offensive surge, and with 28 minutes to play, Sinjon Howell delivered once again.
“Unbelievable,” West Holmes assistant coach Matt Campbell said of Howell’s game-winner. “The past three years he has beaten us with game-winners.”
That was when Campbell made the comment that Sinjon Howell was the Knight Killer.
West Holmes won’t be sad to see him move on via graduation this year. However, Howell had no idea of the feat he had performed over his career.
“I just knew we needed a goal there to keep momentum, and Joe (Agha-Khan) gave me a prefect ball,” Howell said. “It was exciting. They played a really great game, and hustled a lot. It was nice to see us rebound after we fell behind 2-0.”
Told it was his third straight game-winning goal against west Holmes in three straight seasons, all in one-goal Hiland victories, Howell was surprise.
“Oh my gosh, I had no idea,” Howell said with a laugh. “I would have never thought about it.”
From there on, the keepers played a key role, with Campbell making some great saves and with 22 minute to play, the Knights got in close, but Yoder was able to grab a loose ball near the right post.
Not long after that, with passion and emotion running high, West Holmes top player, Zach Buchanan, got into a shoving match near mid-field. With Buchanan already having been awarded a yellow card earlier, Zimmerly could not risk having his star player get carded again, which would have meant his being ineligible for the Knights upcoming tournament game. He pulled Buchanan, explaining to the senior why he was doing it.
“As much as we wanted to win this game, we simply couldn’t afford to lose Zach at that point and risk him getting carded again,” Zimmerly said.
Even without the high-powered, high-energy Buchanan on the field, the Knights continued to play aggressively and push the issue, trying to find the equalizer. Callienno and Miller both had opportunities, and as time ran down, West Holmes had one final shot at tying the game as they knocked a ball into the 18. However, Hiland defender Braden Mast headed the bounding ball that landed several feet in front of the net out over the end line and time expired before the knights could get off a corner kick.
“We did not play very well the first half, and West Holmes played harder, they played smarter and they just wanted it a lot more than we did. We can make all the excuses in the world, but the reality is, they just played better than we did the first half,” Bodiker said. “They deserved to be ahead.”
However, Bodiker’s none-to-subtle half-time speech seemed to turn the tide, and Hiland was a different team after the half.
Zimmerly said they were able to take away the Hawks’ long balls over the top, and they limited the number of set plays and long throw-ins Hiland is so good at performing.
He also was not pleased with the four fouls called that gave Hiland direct kicks.
“It was a physical game all night, and to call four free kicks inside the 30 was tough on us,” Zimmerly said. “And having to take Buchanan out with 20 minutes left hurt us, but I simply could not take that chance. But I thought we gave them too many corners and throw-ins in the second half. It felt like we couldn’t quite play as physically as we wanted to play.”
Zimmerly also felt that the goal before the half was a big momentum changer in the game, and allowing Hiland to score so quickly in the second half only added to that momentum.
“We were taking away what they do bets, and doing a good job of it early on,” Zimmerly said. “If we go into the half up 2-0, it could have been a while different game. But hats off to them, they did what they do best in the second half. I thought offensively we did a good job of moving the ball and working our plays. We just couldn’t find the equalizer.”
Both coaches felt that this game was definitely a good way to prepare for the rigors of the tournament. To have an intensely fought, physical battle like that may end up being a real positive for each team as they move along in the tournament.