In their previous meeting this year, the Raiders fell to the Owls 1-0. During last year’s tournament Cleveland lost the district final to Ooltewah as well.
The Raiders got their revenge and then some Wednesday night, as they beat the Owls 4-3 in double overtime.
“I’m so proud of our guys. We’ve said time and time again, if we can come out and play a full 80 minutes from the beginning to the end of the game playing hard and together, we can play with anybody,” a beaming Cleveland head coach John Brose said. “We came out tonight and we did it not for just 80 minutes, but for the full 100 minutes.”
The win wasn’t just about avenging their past losses to Ooltewah; the Wednesday night overtime victory guaranteed Cleveland a spot in regional competition.
“Winning tonight extends us to next week as well. That takes a lot of pressure off of us for Thursday,” Brose said.
The Raiders will face the Trojans for the district championship Thursday night in Soddy-Daisy at 7 p.m. The Trojans were in a heated match themselves Wednesday evening, as their 2-2 tie with McMinn County was ultimately decided via penalty kicks. It took 25 penalty kicks to decide the winner, and the Trojans came out on top of the Cherokees, 13-12.
Despite knowing they will be going to the regions next week, the pressure to perform at an elite level and get the win is still there as Cleveland hopes to secure home field advantage and the District 5-AAA Championship title.
“We want to bring home the district championship and host next week as well,” Brose commented.
In a testament to the drive and tenacity of both teams’ defense, it wasn’t until almost midway through the first half that the Raiders were able to break through and get the first goal.
Following a shot that was narrowly blocked by Ooltewah’s goalkeeper, Jonathan Collins was able to get Cleveland on the board with an assist from Mike Kanarski.
The one-goal lead was short lived though, as the Owls quickly struck back with a goal of their own just one minute later.
Jesse Jones gave the Raiders their second goal of the night with 12 minutes left in the first half.
“The first time we played here they really negated our speed up front. We’ve got a lot of speed going forward and they did a good job of swarming us,” Brose explained. “Tonight we played the ball into our forwards’ feet, back to our midfielders and then through. I think that made all the difference because it pulled out one of their central defenders and we were able to exploit that space behind them.”
The one-goal difference at the half seemed to only stoke the fires that had already been burning bright as the final 40 minutes of play got underway.
With a little under five minutes gone in the second half Anfernee Avila gave Cleveland a two-goal lead over Ooltewah.
The Owls were able to narrow the Raider lead, answering three minutes later with their second goal of the night.
Despite its best efforts and the play of goalkeeper Zach Martin, Cleveland saw its top-seeded opponent once again tie up the game with 18 minutes left in the match.
Regulation play ended with the 3-3 tie remaining untouched and both teams preparing to continue their semifinal game in OT.
“I’m proud of the effort they put in. That’s a very good Ooltewah team and they’re well coached. They worked hard and they didn’t make it easy by any means. It was a great soccer game to watch,” Brose stated.
Ten minutes later the scoreboard remained unaltered and the next 10 minutes of overtime were set to begin.
The winning goal came 53 seconds into the second OT. Alex Rodriguez passed the ball to Chris Coyle, whose shot on goal was deflected in.
“Our guys came out ready to play and put pressure on then. We got the ball to bounce our way a couple times there in the 18 [the penalty box] and put it home to grind out the victory in the end,” Brose said.
The Owls never gave up the fight, and continued to test the Raiders up until the final whistle.
“For the most part I thought Will Haas and Luke Shattuck just did a tremendous job in the back for us. We won 50/50’s in the midfield and then up front we were able to use our speed and a couple lucky bounces to get the victory,” Brose commented as he described the efforts of his team. “We played real unselfishly with a lot of combinations through the midfield. When we play the ball on the ground like we can and we play quick we’re a tough team to beat and we showed that tonight.”
Cleveland’s soccer team is the first team in the area to lock up a spot in the 3-AAA Regional Tournament and its region play will begin next Tuesday.
Last year the Raiders postseason was ended by Cookeville in the region semifinals.
BLUE RAIDERS 4, OWLS 3
Halftime score: 2-1.
Goals: Jonathan Collins, Jesse Jones, Anfernee Avila, Chris Coyle (C); Leudy Franco, Trey Tucker, Thomas Dance (O). Assists: Mike Kanarski, Alex Rodriguez (C).