Coming off of an uninspiring 8-0 loss to the New Philadelphia Quakers near the end of the regular season on Oct. 4, the West Holmes Lady Knights soccer team would seem to have been a massive underdog in their Div. II East district soccer game with the Quakers on Thursday, Oct. 18 in New Philadelphia at Southside Community Park.
However, West Holmes head coach Schuyler Jones didn’t think that the gap between the two teams was anywhere near that large, and New Philadelphia head coach Brian Rotunno didn’t believe that the previous regular-season score was indicative of how this game would play out.
Both were correct, and the two teams went at it hard for 80 minutes of exciting soccer, but in the end the Quakers still managed to survive in a 1-0 thriller that saw the Lady Knights in full attack mode over the final 20 minutes.
“We expected this to be a very difficult, physical soccer game that we would have to play well to win,” Rotunno said. “We didn’t take them lightly. We really didn’t expect it to be anything like the last game because we knew this West Holmes team was more dangerous than they showed us earlier.”
“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Jones said following the game. “We came out and played hard. We proved we were a much better team than what we were the last time we played, and we really gave everything we had tonight. I am proud of the way we came out here and battled.”
New Philadelphia did manage to control the tempo over the first half, generating some great looks but unable to sneak something past West Holmes keeper Morgan Stephenson, who was fresh off of a stint in the disabled list with a broken hand.
Wielding a club-like structure on her right hand, Stephenson played an inspirational game in net for West Holmes, keeping the Lady Knights in it. However, Kate McEwan did manage to fire a ball by Stephenson, corralling a rebound off the post and driving it home in the 25th minute to give the Quakers a lead it would never relinquish.
“We have had balanced scoring all season, and we never know where it might come from on any given night, but Kate has been one of our consistent scorers,” Rotunno said. “We felt like we generated a lot of chances in the first half, but we didn’t finish a lot of them. But that goal was obviously huge because it put the pressure on them.”
The two teams continued to play a very physical game the second half, but with just under 20 minutes to play, it felt as though West Holmes realized its season was on the line, and they found another gear.
“The pressure that started with about 20 minutes left was the fire that we needed,” Jones said. “New Phila got a little shook from it, and we gained momentum and played possession soccer, and they went into a mode where they were just clearing it. Unfortunately we couldn’t capitalize on that fire that we built. I just wish that we could have come out with that same intensity and fire for the entire 80 minutes.”
The final 15 minutes was a frenzy in the Quaker’s half of the field, although New Philadelphia did manage to get off a few good shots too. The Lady Knights started forcing the issue, and it would be Kerri Wagner on the left side and Taylor Dye on the right who would start to create some terrific looks for West Holmes. Dye nearly scored when she was a fraction of a second late on a ball that hit the Quakers’ keeper and bounced off, but she couldn’t get to it in time, and West Holmes had a ball loose in the box 3 feet from the net but couldn’t find a way to cash in. Finally, on a corner kick with just under six minutes to play, Liberty Arnold’s header to the far post sailed just inches outside the net.
New Philadelphia’s defense did the job the rest of the way as West Holmes made every effort to find the equalizer.
“Our seniors did everything possible in leading this team,” Jones said of her team. “We fought until the very end. Kerri Wagner fired off a shot from midfield with two seconds to play just hoping. They showed a lot of heart and a lot of fight, and they weren’t going to give up. I loved the effort and the heart they showed.”
Jones went on to say during their practices leading into the game, they didn’t talk about their prior game versus the Quakers, instead focusing on the things they needed to accomplish to get better. They did that but came up a goal shy, dropping the deficit to New Philadelphia by seven goals.
For Rotunno and the Quakers, it didn’t matter if it was 8-0 or 1-0, they did what they had to do by winning the game to survive to play again.