Caesar Rodney fell behind three times Saturday night, which is never a good idea in a soccer game.
But the Riders pulled even each time, then finally went ahead on Nick Gruwell’s goal in the 69th minute and held on to edge Charter of Wilmington 4-3 in the opening round of the DIAA Division I Boys Soccer Tournament.
“In the first half, we were discombobulated,” Gruwell said. “Then we settled down and started playing like we know we can play. Once we relaxed, that’s when we played our best soccer and got our goals.”
Fifth-seeded Caesar Rodney (13-3) will meet No. 1 Salesianum in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Smyrna. Fourth-seeded Charter ended its season at 13-3.
The fireworks started in the fifth minute, when Charter’s Jim Connolly broke free after a great pass from Calvin Smick and scored into the top right corner. CR’s Chimaobi Ikwuagwu answered in the 13th minute, ripping a low, left-footed laser to tie the game.
It only took five minutes for the Force to respond, as Nicolas Musacchio found an opening from 15 yards out. But Ikwuagwu earned a breakaway in the 26th minute and sent another left-footed blast into the right corner to make it 2-2.
“I knew that our team in the back was shutting down a little bit,” Ikwuagwu said. “We couldn’t get a stop. So I tried to dig in myself and tried to get my team back in the game and get those two goals.”
Charter recovered quickly, with Smick deftly volleying a bouncing ball into the net for a 3-2 lead in the 29th minute. Force goalkeeper Sam Kwiatkowski snuffed a good scoring opportunity at the end of the half to keep his team in front.
The Riders tied it again in the 54th minute when Adrian Coverdale scored on a beautiful assist from Jaki Farlow.
CR earned a corner kick 15 minutes later, and A.J. Hayward played it to the near post. Gruwell headed it in to give the Riders their first lead at 4-3.
“A.J. hit a perfect ball, and I was just able to beat [the goalkeeper] to the ball and get my head on it,” Gruwell said. “That’s all I needed was a little deflection.”
But it was far from over, as Charter kept pressing forward. The Riders got three huge saves from Kevin Patrick Sheahan over the final eight minutes to keep the lead.
“Did you see some of the stops he made?” CR coach Darrell Gravatt said of Sheahan. “Oh, my goodness, he was everywhere, flying around in the net. Just tremendous.”
The Force was left to contemplate what might have been.
“We were disappointed with the second half,” Charter coach Jon Gillespie said. “We weren’t as tight defensively. We gave up two tough goals and turned it into a shootout. That was difficult for us to overcome.”
The Riders weren’t happy to continually fall in the hole, but they were thrilled to climb out.
“I was a nervous wreck, because we were always fighting from behind,” Gravatt said. “We were down 1-0, then 2-1, and we just kept battling back. To Charter’s credit, they came out more ready than we were. They jumped us a little bit.”
Appoquinimink 2, Dover 0
Jackson Wines scored on a beautiful assist from Sam Jester in the 58th minute, and Yusef Basma added a goal in the 70th minute as the Jaguars shut out the Senators.
Third-seeded Appo (15-1) will meet No. 2 Cape Henlopen in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Smyrna. Sixth-seeded Dover (10-5-1) was outshot 17-1, but got a brilliant game from goalkeeper Jonathan Carson (11 saves) to keep it close.
Salesianum 5, Sussex Tech 0
Matt Paranczak scored two first-half goals and No. 1 Salesianum went on to blank No. 8 Sussex Tech in a DIAA State Division I Boys Soccer Tournament first-round game at Dover High School.
Paranczak scored a goal off an assist from Joey Cain at 9:00 and again off an assist from Dylan Huber at 15:00. Huber, Chris DiSabatino and Liam Hill added goals in the second half for the Sals (15-0-1), who outshot Sussex Tech 15-1. Cain had two assists on the day. Sals goalie Benjamin Lundgaard made one save to record the shutout .