[This is my column in the Oct. 8 issue of The Commercial Review.]
Jay County wasn’t supposed to win.
It was shut out in the season opener against Muncie Central, which had dismantled each of its three sectional foes — Jay County included — during the regular season.
After 40 minutes Wednesday at Yorktown Sports Park, the Class 2A Sectional 15 semifinal between the Jay County High School boys soccer team and the Muncie Central Bearcats was following the unofficial script.
Muncie Central scored 12 minutes into the game and was controlling the tempo, and Jay County spent the majority of its time in the defensive third of the field.
The Patriots’ chances came and went quickly, they weren’t able to sustain possession and before they knew it they were hurrying back on defense.
Opportunities for the Bearcats came in droves while the Patriots went almost a half hour without pressuring Muncie Central goalkeeper Tyler Wood.
Then the buzzer sounded, putting an end to the first half.
During intermission, Jay County coach Adam Daniels reiterated to his squad that for some of them — seniors Nathan Heitkamp, Colton Compton and Levi Moyer — it could be the last game of their career.
The buzzer didn’t just end the opening half; it put an end to the Patriots’ lackluster performance. During the first half they were playing as if the season wasn’t on the line.
“When you’re looked at as the ‘favorite’ … I think when everybody else is looking at you like that, other teams are going to come out and play their best ball against you,” said MCHS coach Shea Hill.
It simply took Jay County 40 minutes to figure out how to play its “best ball.”
Muncie Central still got its chances in the second half, but Jay County goalkeeper Jason Schlosser and the defense in front of him didn’t allow anything to reach the back of the net.
At the other end of the field, the Patriots began to show life. They were getting more and more opportunities in the offensive zone because the Bearcats were used to possessing the ball so much that they were cheating up the field.
Trevor Moeller had a pair of shots from about 25 yards out sail wide of the 8-by-12-foot frame.
Wood deflected Moeller’s third shot, and the Patriots didn’t follow for the rebound as the Bearcat defense kicked the ball out of the zone.
Daniels sternly let his team know of the lack of effort at that moment, and that the forwards needed to crash the net in case Wood mishandled the soccer ball.
His statement turned on a switch. Jay County then played the best 25 minutes it has all season.
Just moments after Daniels yelled, Compton and Heitkamp found themselves deep in the goalie box with Wood fighting for a loose ball.
Compton broke free at the top of the 8-yard box, found space between the Bearcat defense and he buried home the game-tying goal.
Two minutes later, Heitkamp scored from 20-plus yards away when he had space in front of the defense and rifled a right-footed shot to the upper left corner past Wood.
Just like that it was 2-1 Jay County with 23:03 to play.
Often, statements such as “soccer is boring” or “soccer isn’t fun to watch” are said by those unfamiliar with the game.
Wednesday, for the first 40 minutes, the game could very well have been deemed “boring” by Jay County fans. The Patriots were simply being outplayed by the “favorited” Bearcats.
But in a span of 2:07, Jay County went from losing 1-0 to leading 2-1.
And for nearly 18 minutes, Muncie Central and Jay County battled in all three zones of the field.
The Patriots, who were trying to protect the advantage, kicked the ball across midfield at any possible chance, killing time off the clock so they could reset the defense and prepare for another Bearcat surge.
Bend, but not break.
One of those offensive pushes by Muncie Central resulted in the ball bouncing off bodies and limbs in the penalty area in front of Schlosser, and the Bearcats were awarded a penalty kick on a hand ball.
Schlosser was facing the first PK of his short goalkeeping career.
The converted forward did not buckle under the pressure, making a save on Devon McNabb with 3:31 remaining to keep Jay County’s lead intact.
So much for soccer being a “boring” game, right?
Two minutes later, Muncie Central senior Chase Clasby took a shot in the box from the right side. Clasby had scored 12 minutes into the game to give the Bearcats the lead, and had many other chances throughout. But his final attempt missed the frame.
A couple more clears by the JCHS defense and a well-timed substitution — the Patriots were subbing players with 15 seconds left on the clock and time ran out before play could resume — resulted in Jay County getting the chance to defend its sectional championship.
Sure, the first 55 minutes of the game were “boring” and “not fun to watch,” but the final 25 surely made up for it.
And now, Saturday’s boys and girls soccer sectional championships will be Jay County against Yorktown once again.
Sectional soccer is a different type of game. It is more intense. It is more upbeat. It is more fun.
Saturday should be another intense day of soccer in Yorktown as the Jay County girls go for their third-consecutive title and the boys eye back-to-back championships.
See you there.