Mansfield Christian soccer coach Jesse Rider celebrated his 30th birthday at the bottom of a dog pile after his team’s 2-1 victory over Elyria Catholic in a Division III regional semifinal match Wednesday night.
“It’s been a pretty good birthday,” Rider said.
The Flames battled back from an early 1-0 deficit for the win, trailing less than two minutes into the game when the Panthers Carl Spaetzel scored a quick goal at the 38:33 mark, but they didn’t waver. Senior David Cochran tied it up, 1-1, with 8:54 remaining before the half, and from that point forward, Mansfield Christian controlled possession.
“We came out a little flat and couldn’t hold on to the ball, and we gave them so many opportunities,” Rider said. “That’s one of the things we stress to our guys is dictating the tempo of the game and keeping possession, and once we did that we were OK. The first 15 minutes were a little shaky.”
“I think we did a good job the first 10-15 minutes into the game,” Elyria Catholic coach Attila Csiszar said. “They they possessed the ball well, moving the ball around.”
Mansfield Christian players, along with the Flames student section, erupted in cheer when Sam Paul scored the game-winning goal from the 20-yard line with 5:21 remaining off an assist by Cochran. The victory marks Mansfield Christian’s third trip to the regional finals in as many years.
“I got that touch and I lined up just right on that turf, and before I hit it I knew where it was going and I knew it was going right in,” Paul said.
The Flames sophomore said his team was able to gain its composure well after trailing early, never losing faith.
“I think their first goal even helped us a little bit by settling us down a little bit and letting us see, hey, this is a good team. We’ve got to play now,” Paul said.
Mansfield Christian (19-0-1) advance to Saturday’s regional final against Kalida at noon at Findlay high school. The Wildcats moved on with a 2-1 win over Ottawa Hills off of a penalty kick.