By Tom Williams
South Range High soccer player Cole Durina sensed that the biggest goal in school history was coming.
When the junior’s golden opportunity came to send the Raiders to the Division III regional tournament for the first time, Durina didn’t miss.
With 1:45 remaining in the first 15-minute overtime session, Durina’s goal gave South Range a 1-0 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas in Saturday’s district championship game.
“It’s wonderful,” Raiders coach Alan Styer said. “[I’m feeling] incredible relief, incredible exhilaration.”
Late in the extra session, the top-seeded Raiders (11-4-4) increased their pressure on the Knights. Cole Frank fed the ball to Matt Russ for a shot that was about 20 yards away from goalkeeper Jason Barnett.
Barnett caught the ball then bobbled it. Durina swooped in to tap it into the net.
“I was at the top of the 18,” Durina said. “I saw that he shot it so I rushed the keeper in case it deflected.
“When I saw the ball bouncing, I said to myself, ‘I just have to put this in,’” said Durina who said the play seemed to unfold in slow motion. “When it went in, everything was pretty awesome.”
Styer wasn’t surprised that Durina ended the game.
“He’s just a fighter,” Styer said. “He doesn’t quit.”
Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Twinsburg, South Range will play Doylestown Chippewa (16-0-3) in the regional semifinal.
“This is amazing,” said senior captain Tyler Rothbauer, the placekicker and punter for the Raiders’ undefeated football team who is enjoying a remarkable weekend. “This is the greatest feeling in the world.
Rothbauer and co-captain Adam Meloy were among the Raiders defensemen who kept most of the Knights’ shots from reaching goalkeeper Brant Rothbauer.
“It’s mostly about teamwork and talking to each other,” said Meloy who injured an ankle late in regulation but returned for overtime. “It [hurt] — I didn’t know if I was going to go back in.”
Meloy then smiled and admitted that keeping him out of what might have been his final varsity game was unlikely.
The Raiders’ surge near the end of the overtime session was no accident.
“They were playing with a man down and we figured we’d take advantage of the wind being at our backs,” Tyler Rothbauer said. “We knew we needed to score then.”
With 31 minutes remaining in the second half, the Knights’ Jared Smith was sent to the bench with his second yellow card. Despite playing shorthanded, the Knights were able to keep the Raiders off the scoreboard in regulation as Barnett finished with 13 saves before surrendering Durina’s goal.
“They were playing great defense,” Rothbauer said.
Brant Rothbauer finished with three saves. Most of his focus was on shaking off the biting wind that created a windchill of around 30 degrees throughout the game.
“Sometimes to keep warm, I jog a little then stretch,” Rothbauer said.
Styer noted how Meloy and Brooks Thomas played through strong collisions.
“He weighs 103 pounds,” said Styer of Thomas, a sophomore. “And he played every minute — he’s an awesome player.”
Joe Staffield, Styer’s assistant, said, “[Now,] he’s a 103-pound bruise.”
Durina said the Raiders ignored the wintry conditions.
“Our last three games, [it’s been cold] like this,” Durina said. “We’re starting to get used to it now.
“I kind of like playing in these cold conditions.”