COLUMBUS, Oh - On Saturday, the Wildcats faced off in their third consecutive State Championship, looking to claim their 11th State Championship and tie the football team record. Little did they know the history that would be made in this match and the incredible show put on in front of a lovely crowd at a beautiful, brand-new stadium in Columbus, OH.
It was a chilly but beautiful night at Lower.Com, home of the Columbus Crew. The Wildcats would make another state championship appearance, as they took on the Centerville Elks from the Dayton area, a brilliant team from Southern Ohio, who they had not squared off against since the same stage back in 2010, as the Wildcats beat the Elks 4-1 in that year’s State Championship. Both teams had so much to prove and with both programs taking pride in their rich culture and history behind their programs, everything was pointing to a memorable evening.
Both teams lined up in their traditional 4-3-3 formations but still had plenty of adjustments to make, playing on a much wider pitch as they lined up at a professional stadium; compared to the football fields and high school stadiums, both teams are accustomed to throughout the season.
The scene was set, both teams lined up at midfield, student sections buzzing, and fans awaiting kickoff.
With the sound of the whistle, the first half was underway. The Wildcats dominated the first half in possession, getting good attacking chances, but were either promptly squandered or broken up by Centerville’s defense, who indeed showed clinical defensive presence.
With the Elks battling back in possession and shot creation towards the end of the first half, things remained level going into the half; both teams got their fair share of the ball, but the Wildcats still dominated in shots, with a 10:4 ratio.
With the second half underway, things began to get more intense; more demanding challenges, more passion, more grit, all of the work.
With 26:04 remaining in the second half, the Wildcats promptly progressed down the pitch. As they reached a position of menace, the ball was laid off for senior Luciano Pechota. Pechota cut inside and eluded defenders and had a shot towards the back post. Centerville goalie Luke Shrivers stopped the shot, but Josip Rimac crashed into the box and tapped in the rebound. The Wildcats were finally ahead; now, they just needed to hold onto the lead.
Centerville continued their attacking game, shifting to a more aggressive approach to the deficit. Time kept ticking down and Centerville slowly but surely began moving the momentum. The Elks started breaking down the Wildcats with brilliant attack and passing, forcing a few saves from Patrick McLaughlin before eventually striking down the Wildcats’ hopes.
With six minutes left in the match. The Elks would regain possession off of a Wildcats giveaway. With a few blissful passes, the world-class winger Jack Drabenstott would find control off the through ball and square it into the center for Colin Gottron. Gottron scored on a wide-open far side of the goal to knock in an equalizer, making it 1-1 in the dying embers of the match.
The last six minutes posed massive levels of drama, as it encapsulated many close calls. Nolan Spicer tried to chip the keeper in mere minutes remaining, as it just missed the frame of the goal. The Elks also had a few chances, forcing more saves out of McLaughlin.
The whistle blew for the end of regulation, and the Wildcats and the Elks found themselves entering overtime. Both teams remained incredibly composed as they were ready for more action.
The overtime period showed more drama as the gameplay intensified; every player had to find that third lung, that final gear they needed to carry on, despite being gassed from the first 80 minutes.
With six minutes to go in the first overtime period, Nolan Spicer received a through ball from Nathan Trickett on the left-hand side. Spicer dribbled it into the 18-yard box, angled it perfectly, and played it past the keeper at the 90th minute.
The game was over; the Wildcats had won the game. The team rushed from the bench and ran to the players on the pitch, and the celebration began. Emotion flooded the audience and players; the broadcast was losing its mind. The student section was going ballistic. Everything turned into pure chaos and excitement for the Wildcats as they could revel at the moment. This was simply one of the best games I have ever called in my career.
After three months of hard work, dedication, and struggle, the Wildcats finally raised the trophy and could celebrate as a team. An incredible way to go out to all involved.
The Elks, on the other hand, had nothing to be ashamed of. This match truly showed not only the skill and passion of the team but also the intelligence and excellent game planning involved with their endeavor. What a side they were, and they only have more time to build back in the coming years.
Stay tuned for an end-of-the-season recap (written by yours truly). We will go through the season end-to-end, with some awards to give out courtesy of the SIBN and an All-Opponent team, which will highlight the best of the best in Saint Ignatius’ opposition programs this year.
Finally, from the bottom of our hearts at the SIBN, thank you so much for all of your support and ongoing viewership. From my three-year career with the soccer program, there is nothing I would trade it for. Thank you all for everything.