Central Christian Comets

Late goal allows Comets to tie Hawks in an epic duel

Coming into their important contest with rival Hiland Tuesday, Sept. 27, the Central Christian Comets had not allowed a goal through the first nine games of the year.

So when Hiland came roaring out of the gate, and got an early goal, it may have shocked the Comets to give up a marker, and it was the first time they had trailed in a game this season.

And while the Hawks continued to play great soccer, Central (8-0-2) eventually did find a goal mid-way through the second half, and the two teams left the field at Central Christian High School with a 1-1 tie in what was a hugely entertaining game.

Hiland (6-2-2) got on top early when Clay Gerber got through the Central defense and took a ball that banged around, and ended up at the feet of Derek Miller, Hiland’s leading scorer. Miller knew what to do and punched a shot by Jeremiah Mullet for the ice-breaker. (video) Both teams got chances throughout he first half, but Hiland continued to play aggressively and controlled the tempo.

“I was glad we were able to respond to some adversity and come back and get the equalizer after giving up our first goal of the season,” said Central coach Alex Steiner. “That is good for us to face some adversity and realize we are able to survive and thrive in that moment.”

That equalizer wouldn’t come until about mid-way through the second half. Central found themselves several opportunities when a ball got loose in the box in front of keeper Isaiah Yoder, and eventually Taylor Zuniga was able to shoot one into the lower left corner to tie the score. (video)

“I guess I was in the right place at the right time, and when the opportunity to shoot came up I took it,” said Zuniga. “I thought we did a good job of acknowledging some problem areas we had in the first half and made some adjustments.”

The final 20 minutes saw both teams take some good, aggressive play that made for a wild finish that made for some pretty tense viewing for a massive crowd that had come to watch this rivalry game.

“That is a terrific team, and they are very deserving to be ranked third in the state,” said Hiland coach Scott Bodiker of the Comets. “They have great players all over the field. We have played some really great Central teams over the years, teams that have gone to the final four, and this team is right there with any of those teams in terms of ability. They don’t have any weak links. But I think tonight proved that we are right there and can compete with teams like that.”

Defensively, Hiland played a tremendous game, as the backfield of keeper Isaiah Yoder (video), Braden Mast, Garrett Miller, Curtis Yoder and Grant Gingerich put the clamps on Central’s high-octane offense, and high-scoring Kevin Pasho in particular.

Gingerich was a big part of that effort, and said the defense was very focused on pulling off the game plan that allowed them to do what they did.

“We knew Pasho was a terrific player, and we knew we couldn’t let him turn with the ball, because he has great footwork,” said Gingerich. “He’s such an important part of their offense, so we focused on really locking him down.”

“Give them credit, they came in with a really good game plan and executed very well,” said Steiner. “They were well organized, and played hard. I didn’t think we played our best tonight, and they made us pay for it. We made some mistakes some things defensively I haven’t seen us make this year, and they forced us into those with their play. They came out of the gate ready to play. That was the first time this season I felt a team has matched and surpassed our energy.”

While Hiland played what was arguably one of its finest games this year, Bodiker said a developing trend he wants to see disappear is his team getting leads on tough competition, only to let it slip away early in the second half.

“This is the third time this year in really big games, Wooster, Mansfield Christian and now tonight, that we were up at half and came out the second half and played a little bit not to lose,” said Bodiker. “It may be fatigue, it might be the other team stepping up and playing harder and it might be us playing with a little bit of fear, but we have to overcome that. That happened tonight for the first 20 minutes of the second half, but then after they scored, we kicked it back into gear and were a lot better over the final 20 minutes.”

What it all added up to was two great programs duking it out, and in the end, neither left with a win or a loss, although Mast may have summed up what both teams were feeling as they left after the hard-fought battle.

“It felt like we lost,” Mast said.

However, having played in a big game, under that kind of pressure, in the long run, both teams probably came out better for it.

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