A three-minute stretch during Defiance's Division II sectional opener against Van Wert proved to be the difference in an otherwise even contest as the Cougars ended the Bulldogs' season with a 2-0 victory on Saturday at Defiance High School.
The Cougars (7-8-2) scored a pair of goals a little more than two minutes apart and had a golden opportunity to add a third moments later on a penalty kick while shutting out the Bulldogs in a game that had a slower, less up-tempo game than is typical for a Bulldog team come tournament time.
"We tried to keep the intensity, we knew if we made a mistake like we did, whoever scores the first goal, it was going to be tough for the other team," said Defiance's long time head coach Carlos Lopez, whose team finishes with a record of 4-9-3. "We tried to keep the same momentum, same tempo, but they came over with more desire to score the first goal. It seems like today we didn't look like we played against Elida, Shawnee and all those games, it just got a turn and I had a bad feeling and it happened. I told them at halftime, 'watch it, they're not going to sit back and wait on us' that was it. They're a good team. Their program is growing up. Sometimes we play two different halves and today was no exception."
The first 40 minutes of play was laid back for both squads and that carried over for the first few minutes in the second half. A hard collision between Van Wert keeper Joe Moonshower and Defiance's Jordan Tobias 3:44 into the second half as the Bulldog junior went to head an Austin Fraley corner kick seemed to change the pace for both teams, and the Cougars were able to capitalize first.
In the 50th minute of the game, Van Wert's Nathan Knodel put one of the Cougars' nine shots on goal as Zach Kessler made the initial save but gave up a rebound to his left. Knodel won the race to the ball and was able to slide the ball into the net to give his team the momentum with 30:51 left on the game clock.
"We've got one of the best goalies in the league and our guys are used to going up against one of the best around," commented Van Wert coach George Scott, whose team beat the Defiance 1-0 late in September. "We've seen this goalie before, we knew he was not as quick as our goalie is and what we did was just play the rebound and tried to get him off-balance. We followed the shot, our own guy followed his own shot actually, and it ended up producing a goal for us."
Moments later, on a free kick from about 25 yards out, Van Wert junior Jon Lisa sent a lob to the goal, and the ball sailed over the head of the Defiance keeper for a 2-0 Cougar lead.
Defiance swapped Tyler Rue in for Kessler, who finished with three saves, and the new keeper was put to the test right away as the game nearly got out of hand. In the 54th minute, Van Wert was awarded a penalty kick for a foul inside the box, but Rue didn't have to make a save as Caleb Markward shot the ball high and right over the goal.
"Defiance is a great team, their record doesn't necessarily say how good of a team they are, but they possess the ball very well, they've got athletes on their team," said Scott on the three-minute stretch. "We tried a couple different things, we've played them before, we made a few changes so that when we did transition we'd have the guys that we want up top to put the ball in."
The Bulldogs put 14 shots on goal against Moonshower, but the talented keeper came up with easy save after easy save as the Bulldogs took most of their shots from outside the 18-foot box.
"They have a big goalie, we played them two weeks ago and we did the same thing," Lopez said of shooting mainly from the outside. "When you lob the shots instead of shoot it and all that, it's tough to score on a goalie like that."
With 22 minutes left in the game, Defiance generated a quality scoring opportunity on a Doug Herrett free kick as he sent the ball right to the head of Shea Murray, who had a clear height advantage over the Cougar defenders. Murray's shot, however, was caught by a perfectly positioned Moonshower.
Jordan Tobias had similar scoring chances on two Austin Fraley corner kicks in the later stages of the second half, but with the same result.
"He's just a fantastic athlete across the board and he's quick, he can move across the field, he's got great vision, natural instinct, his hands are soft, he's the real deal," Scott said of his keeper. "Hopefully he goes on and plays at the next level, he just cleans up a lot of our defensive lapses. A lot of other goalies, that goes in, those headers go in. That number 23 (Tobias), number 11 (Murray), those guys are tall. We've been working and preparing for those types of guys. We knew that we'd have to play solid defense and keep the box clear so that Joe would have a chance to make those saves and he did that."
Rue made two big saves to keep it a two-goal game, but the offense was unable to get anything behind Moonshower as time ran out on the Bulldogs' 2011 season.
Van Wert will play Ottawa-Glandorf in the early game on Monday at Defiance followed by Bryan and Napoleon.
Van Wert 2, Defiance 0
Defiance - Shots/On goal: 17/14. Saves: Zach Kessler 3, Tyler Rue 4. Corners: 6. Van Wert - Goals: Nathan Knodel (50'), Jon Lisa (52'). Shots/On goal: 12/9. Saves: Joe Moonshower 11, Joey Hurless 1. Corners: 3.