For the first five minutes of their Div. II tournament opener against Morgan at Morgan High School on Tuesday, Oct. 17, the West Holmes Knights soccer team looked like it was ready to go, displaying some sharp passing and keeping the ball on Morgan’s half of the field.
Then something strange happened. Morgan and senior Darien Bowen in particular began aggressively flying all over the field, making out-of-control plays and crashing around the field of play in a relentless fashion.
Even as Bowen’s teammates urged him to settle down before he hurt someone, that tactic had an effect, and the youthful Knights seemed to be a little intimidated by the Raiders.
Morgan became the team that took to the attack, and a goal 30 seconds into the second half proved to be the only tally as the Knights fell from tournament play 1-0.
“It’s a mentality, and we have struggled with that all year,” West Holmes coach Dave Zimmerly said of the lack of aggressive play. “Their coach actually came through the line after the game and said, ‘Man, you guys are good.’ That doesn’t really matter because they won the game. They started putting uncontrolled pressure on us, and it was late pressure where our kids were starting to worry about taking one to the shins every time they touched the ball, and that made us rush our touches. After that first couple of hard tackles, we got skittish with the ball at our feet. That is something that our young kids are going to have to overcome, and we’ll get better as we mature physically.”
Raiders Ethan Newton and Kai Mayle started pushing the ball toward the West Holmes net, where sophomore keeper Brendon Yoder stood watch. Yoder played a sensational game, making a number of incredible saves throughout the contest.
“I told Brendon he was probably the only reason we were still even at the half,” Zimmerly said.
One shot in particular in the first half summed up Yoder’s effort in net. He dove quickly to his left and deflected a laser that appeared to be bound for the back of the net and nudged it just outside the goal to keep things on an even keel.
That score lasted all of 28 seconds into the second half when Morgan sent a high ball into the 18, where the Knights were unable to send it away. That allowed Mayle a chance to take on Yoder one on one from about 5 yards, and Yoder had no chance as Mayle sent a scorcher into the top of the net.
Now trailing, West Holmes did turn up its effort and began attacking better, mainly over the final 20 minutes. But with the Raiders keeping six or seven players back in the box, creating decent scoring opportunities was tough.
With 26 minutes to play, West Holmes narrowly missed when Tre Anderson sent an indirect kick in front of the Morgan net, and Teddy Oliver’s header attempt was just inches away from making contact right in front of the mouth of the goal.
As the clock ticked down under 20 minutes, West Holmes had an almost identical scenario and failed to connect as Morgan keeper Chance Myers came out to grab it. With 15 minutes to play, West Holmes saw its best chance to score when a through ball found daylight, and senior Brady Campbell went all-out for it. As Campbell and two Morgan defenders raced for the ball, right before Campbell’s touch took place, Myers was able to make a gorgeous sliding play on the ball to secure it.
Morgan challenged a few minutes later, and Mayle ripped a point-blank shot that Yoder moved to his left swiftly to stop.
With time winding down and just over one minute left in the game, West Holmes had one final shot at tying the game, but Tyler Master’s low burner rolled just outside the left side of the net.
“It was frustrating because we knew coming in that we had the better skilled players, and they were just going to bang it deep and chase, but we let them intimidate us, and it took us out of our game,” Zimmerly said. “Morgan played hard all night, and I didn’t think we played with enough of a sense of urgency.”
Zimmerly said that early in the season the Knights were rolling, but when Campbell went down with a lengthy injury that kept him out of action much of the season, it changed the way the offense flowed.
“We were playing well, and after that happened, we never really got back into rhythm,” Zimmerly said. “We made some changes today that I thought might help, but we just sat back too much today for it to have an impact.”
The loss ends a season of high hopes for West Holmes, and Zimmerly said despite bowing out early, he feels his program took steps in a good direction this season.
“We played the best soccer of any squad I have ever had,” Zimmerly said. “And I get it. We have a ton of youth with five core sophomores. I just want us to get to where we can be quickly. We’ve got a bunch of skilled kids, and there were times this year when we played fantastic against some really great teams. For the most part we had kids step up and make some really nice plays this year, and we got better in a lot of areas, but it was frustrating because I felt like we weren’t too far from having a really good season.”