By Doug Chapin
Giving up a goal just a minute and 12 seconds into a soccer game is never a good thing, especially against the top-ranked high school team in the nation.
But Howland High weathered that early score by Cleveland St. Ignatius and battled to maintain that 1-0 score through halftime before dropping a 5-0 decision to the Wildcats Tuesday night in a Division I regional semifinal at Ravenna. St. Ignatius is ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today.
“We played an outstanding first half,” Howland coach George Stevens said. “I thought our guys, toward the end of the first half, had the better of the play. We just weren’t able to put any in.
“After that first goal Robert [Daniels] played a great game and I thought we should have cleared that out for him. He made the initial stop and it just fell to them.”
Daniels, the Tigers’ senior goal keeper, finished with eight saves while facing 28 shots from the Wildcats (20-0-0). At least three of his saves prevented almost sure goals.
He stopped the initial shot of the game off a free kick from 25 yards out, but was unable to hold on to the ball. It dropped to Yianni Sarris who buried it in the back of the net with 38:48 showing on the clock.
“Regardless of the score, our kids play as hard as they can. And you can see St. Ignatius was doing the same thing,” Stevens said. “I’m quite sure that at halftime they were pretty well frustrated they were only up 1-0. It was an early goal and then it was even the rest of the half.
“But they are an extremely disciplined team, they didn’t panic, they just came out and played their style of play and prevailed in the end.”
Howland (16-4-0) got off seven shots on the night but had just one on goal. After playing outstanding defensively, the Tigers were forced to try to produce more on the offensive end in the second half.
“The first half we played excellent defense, really good defense,” Stevens said. “The second half, our center back moved up and we tried to play with three backs to generate a little more offense and that opened up things for their goals in the second half.
The Wildcats made it 2-0 at 35:34 of the second half when Greg Kurtz headed in a throw-in from Nate Fahey. A brilliant cross by Sarris and an equally brilliant shot by Ryan Ivancic made it 3-0 with 25:44 remaining.
The final two goals, at 8:11 by Fahey and at 2:15 by Preston Spurrier, simply added to the final score.
“We knew that we had to come out and play as hard as we could play,” Stevens said. “We, probably, athletically could match up with them. In terms of soccer skills they demonstrated why they are ranked number one in the country.
“I don’t think our kids were intimidated. As a matter of fact, it’s more of an honor to play a team the caliber of St. Ignatius. Of all the teams you could play in the playoffs at this point, if you’re going to lose, you want to lose to the best team.”