BRUNSWICK, Oh - On Wednesday, the Wildcats would play their penultimate game of the 2022 season, a rematch against the Medina Bees. This match would mark the seventh straight meeting between the two teams in the playoffs, the Wildcats holding a 4-2 series advantage. Due to such frequent meetings in such pivotal games, the matchup has quickly become one of Wildcat's biggest soccer rivalries, with several instant classics being played between the two throughout the years.
This year's installment did not disappoint, as it was a stellar game filled with passion and defensive prowess, a game in which both teams gave it their all and truly put on a fantastic performance.
The Wildcats would return to Brunswick Auto Mart Stadium for the third time in under two weeks after a scrappy, windy 5-1 victory over Sylvania North. Medina entered after upsetting Hudson, a game in which Medina's Jacob Hutz would score the golden goal in overtime to give Medina the 2-1 victory. Both teams were eager to get their shot at punching their ticket to Columbus.
The Wildcats came out in their traditional 4-3-3, with Zsombor Onodi, Marty McLaughlin, and Carter Snyder at forward, Owen Sullivan, Nick Mikulec and Nolan Spicer in the midfield, Thomas Nader, Ernie Vargo, Owen Maruca and Phil Vlastaris in the back and Patrick McLaughlin in goal. The Bees played a 4-1-4-1, with their defensive midfielder Evan Kotic often dropping back into more of a center-back position.
The first fifteen minutes of the competition were filled with promising-looking attacks from both teams being met by fabulous defensive challenges to erase any hopes of an opening goal. Despite ultimately earning more possession, the Wildcats would fail to find the back of the net, thanks partly to the heroic efforts of Medina goalkeeper Donny Taylor, who notched saves on two separate one-on-ones.
The Wildcats would finally tally a goal on the board in the 19th minute. The Wildcats were awarded a corner kick from the right side of the pitch. Left-footed Marty McLaughlin would step up to deliver an in-swinging corner kick. The kick would ricochet off of the head of a Medina back; the redirection would take the ball right to the head of Carter Snyder by the near post. Snyder got a head on the ball and placed it in the back of the net. As he ran to the corner flag in celebration, he was greeted by Ignatius reserves, an emotional moment for the energetic senior, as he would give the Wildcats the lead and put them in a position to return to the state finals.
The next twenty minutes of the half would be very similar to the first twenty, with several opportunities coming for both sides, yet no one could finish and put a ball into the net. The game would enter halftime 1-0.
Coming out of the half, the Wildcats would make a few adjustments. They looked to slow the game down to prevent mistakes and set up to play a more defensive style. With this playstyle, the score would remain 1-0, with Medina getting few good scoring chances.
However, with 13 minutes left in the match, Medina senior Nathan Werthmuller would get the ball near the Wildcat end line. He crossed the ball to an unmarked Owen Alber. Alber would take one touch and fire the ball into the top right corner of the net. Just as a swarm of Bees ran to celebrate, the referee sprinted in, emphatically calling off the goal. He deemed that the ball had crossed the end line before Werthmuller's cross. The Wildcats would remain on top.
The final ten minutes would be hard-fought, as the Ignatius side would look to keep possession of the ball and their lead. With ten seconds remaining, Medina would get one final chance. Jacob Hutz would get the ball at the edge of the box, wind up, and shoot a desperation shot. The shot sailed wide and Wildcat celebration ensued; they had punched their ticket to Columbus for the fourth consecutive year.
The 1-0 final doesn't do it justice to how much effort each team poured into the game. Both teams showed moments of greatness, but at the end of the day, the Wildcats were just that little bit greater. They will face off against the New Albany Eagles for one last dance of the 2022 season, the OHSAA State Championship.
The game will be a rematch of the 2020 State Championship when the Wildcats claimed a 4-1 victory over the Eagles. The game will be held at the state-of-the-art Lower.com Field in Columbus, the site of last year's Wildcat State Championship victory, on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.