Bring together two division foes on a muddy field, one looking to make a deep playoff run and another with nothing to lose, top it off with a bit of cold weather mixed in with 80 minutes of driving rain, and what you get is the quintessential playoff soccer game.
That’s exactly what a brave handful of fans were treated to Tuesday afternoon when Dryden hosted Interscholastic Athletic Conference Large North division opponent Union Springs in a Section 4 Class B first-round boys game.
Senior midfielder Greg Nostrand struck each side of halftime to extend his high school career for at least a couple more days and hand the third-seeded Purple Lions a 2-1 decision for their third victory over the sixth-seeded Wolves this season.
“We came out and played really well in the first half and only got one goal,” said Dryden coach Laszlo Engel. “Their goalkeeper played well and they packed in their defense a little bit, but we had opportunities that we just missed too. When it’s raining like that it evens out the game a little bit, and credit Union Springs, they gave it to us in the second half.”
Dryden (10-4-1), which had beaten Union Springs (7-9) by a combined score of 6-0 in two regular-season meetings this year, created an abundance of chances in a dominant first half, but could not add to its lead after Nostrand’s opener inside of eight minutes played created by the senior’s hustle.
Following a through ball into the opposing box that ran a little too long, Nostrand did not give up on the play and pressured a Wolves defender looking to shield the ball as it rolled toward the sideline. His efforts paid off when he was able to shrug off the defender’s challenge and nick the ball right before it went out for a goal kick, and he did even better when he coolly slotted past Union Springs senior goalie Cody Halverson.
Nostrand could have opened the scoring a few minutes earlier, but he misstimed his kick when faced with an open goal following a rebound and could not make contact with the ball.
The Wolves were content to play on the counter-attack and got their equalizer six minutes after the restart. Following another spell of possession by the hosts, Union Springs won back the ball in its own half and after a few passes up field sent a long cross into the Dryden box. Lions junior goalie Cutter Haile did his best to collect the skipping ball but instead spilled it into the path of Wolves junior Ilsais Vasquez, who directed it to the back of the net.
Not long after the Wolves almost benefited from a slippery ball that the Dryden defense had trouble clearing, a cutback cross by Lions junior Michael Harvey bounced off a few players in the Union Springs box before rolling out to the feet of an onrushing Nostrand, whose hard low shot with 13:35 remaining propelled his team into the secound round.
“I thought both groups played extremely hard under some harsh conditions,” said Union Springs coach Jim Hodges. “In a game like that sometimes the ball is going to bounce your way and sometimes it bounced their way. I thought the Nostrand kid played an excellent game in the middle part of the field for them.”
The Purple Lions, who held the edge in shots (21-3) and corners (7-2), will travel Friday to second-seeded Oneonta (10-2), the Southern Tier Athletic Conference champion which had a first-round bye and has knocked Dryden out of the last three sectional tournaments.
“Hopefully we catch them on a lull and come out and really want it,” said Engel. “It’s always good to have to practice this time of year.”
Halverson finished with 11 saves for Union Springs, while Haile made two saves for Dryden.