For anyone there watching, it was clear what was at stake when undefeated Delta visited Wauseon on Thursday in a crucial Northwest Ohio Athletic League boys soccer match. There were many momentum swings throughout, and in the end the two teams ended up tied at 3-3.
It was a high-energy contest in which both teams played well.
“This is a fun atmosphere,” said Wauseon Coach Casey Elson after the game. “You don’t really get this too much in high school soccer. Both teams playing for everything on the line here. Fans came out. I really love soccer, and I love being part of big-time games. Sometimes the outcome doesn’t go the way you want it to, but you know, we had chances. Perfect opportunities (that) just missed. That’s the way it goes in soccer I think. But I really liked the way that the guys played. They busted their tail off.”
Delta mentor KJ Abair was pleased with his team’s showing, and although their defense allowed three goals, he thought they did a nice job slowing down an athletic Wauseon team.
“We knew coming in that they were gonna be fast up front, and they’re gonna be physical. It’s gonna be wet. I thought we did pretty well on containing and leaving them there. I mean yeah they got three, all three of their goals were one-on-one through balls,” Abair said.
The two teams were tied at the half.
After coming up short on several attempts — many by Gavin Gerig — the Indians finally cashed in at the 20:45 mark of the first half. Eli Delgado was able to finish off a ball centered by Gerig, giving the home team a 1-0 advantage.
However, the Panthers came up with an answer with 15:25 left in the half as Cooper Tenney, losing his footing in the process, booted a ball into the back of the net from the right side.
Exactly four minutes into the second half, Wauseon’s Braden Vajen appeared to have an open look at the net from the left, but Delta defender Cayden Mignin threw his body in front to thwart the attempt.
Then, the Panthers’ Max York saw his shot near the top of the penalty area get deflected up off the crossbar and out of play by Wauseon goalkeeper Joel Gray.
Vajen again got behind the defense with just under 27 minutes remaining, rolling it in from left to right for a 2-1 Indians’ lead.
The Wauseon faithful hadn’t stopped cheering yet, when Delta’s AJ Matthews received a left-to-right crossing pass from Luke Reinhard and banged it home, tying the game at 2-2 at the 26:23 mark — just 35 seconds after Vajen’s goal.
The Panthers claimed their first lead of the night with 18:08 left to play. From just inside the penalty area, York put one on net that trickled through the legs of Gray for a goal and 3-2 Panther lead.
“It’s a fun team to coach,” said Abair, referring to his team’s second half response. “We’re young, we have two seniors we’re gonna lose, and they’re gonna be big losses. But, they just don’t give up. No matter what. This is the first time we’ve ever tied in the second half. We’ve always won the second half of the first 12 games. So hey, I’ll take it. I said, ‘we got to tie or win the second half, we’re not losing the second half.’ They did exactly what we wanted. Can’t be mad one bit.”
Wauseon, however, didn’t hang their heads and kept coming after the Panthers. Flying up the right side, Gerig fired one past Delta goalkeeper Brodey Roth when he came out to contest, scoring the game’s final goal with 14:51 remaining.
“A couple of my varsity captains, they went over and they watched them play against Pettisville (Monday). And they noticed that they did a heck of a lot of getting the ball forward — and pressing up much. We did see that. So we kind of expected with our offense, Gaving Gerig’s a pretty quick kid, getting him loose on the side was definitely gonna be an option for us. I know he (Abair) likes his offense, and we liked ours. So we kind of figured you know, it’s gonna be a big shootout here,” explained Elson.
Both teams had opportunities down the stretch but couldn’t capitalize. Gray kept the Panthers off the board at the 6:53 mark, turning away Nolan Risner’s shot off a centering feed from Tenney.
“We replaced (last year’s goalkeeper) Easton (Delgado), and it’s not easy to follow in his (foot) steps. I think he (Gray) gets on himself more than anyone else. Again, you’re a high school kid, people make mistakes. But I really love it when the teammates picked him up. (Told him) ‘let it go, it’s alright.’ He made a heck of a save there towards the end,” said Elson on Gray and his team responding after the Panthers went ahead.
Two days later, Wauseon’s match at rival Archbold finished in a 2-2 tie. Delta hosted Napoleon where they also tied, 5-5.
In light of the Indians tie with the Blue Streaks and Thursday’s result, Delta is one step closer to accomplishing a goal they set prior to the season. They will claim the league title outright if they can beat Liberty Center at home on Tuesday.
“We have nothing on our banner,” said Abair, noting the program’s lack of a league title. “We’ve only had soccer since 2014. Our first time in school history being up there. It’s gonna be amazing. And then our goal is to get sectional champs. That was their team goal at the beginning of the year. I asked them personal and the team goal, and 90% of them said league champs and sectional champs (as their team goals). I said, ‘I like that attitude.’”
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010.