Earlier this month the Benton Tigers came from a goal behind to surprise Loyola 2-1 and set up a winner-take-all game at Tinsley Park Monday night to decide the Division 2, District 1 boys’ soccer title. This time around it was the Flyers who had to come from behind, with goals from Cyalton Bantle and Michael Vitacca (2) giving them a 3-1 win.
Despite Loyola (13-5-2, 7-1) enjoying the assistance of a strong wind the first half, Benton’s Nick Bowers gave the Tigers (15-5, 5-2) a surprise lead after 12 minutes when his attempted cross from the right side ended up looping into the left corner. Just three minutes later Bantle put Loyola on level terms with a deflected shot into the corner before Vitacca gave them a 2-1 lead at the half. Vitacca added the security marker 10 minutes into the second half to ensure the win and the district title.
“We weren’t too worried going a goal down,” said Flyers coach Trey Woodham. “We knew there was a long way to go, we knew we had the wind and we knew that they had come back from a goal down the last time we played. We got level quickly, which helped, and then in the second half once we had our lead we just had to see out the clock and make sure we held on.”
For the Tigers it was a disappointing end to a district challenge in just the fifth year of their program. Their best chance of getting something out of the game came with about ten minutes left when Bantle had a clear shot from about six yards out, but blasted his shot over the bar.
“We’ve had a good season and we’re disappointed it finished like that,” said coach Bryan George. “We’re seeded number two in the district though so we’ll go into the playoffs with our heads up and see what happens.”
Loyola had much of the early play as they enjoyed the advantage of the strong wind, but Bowers was effective on the right side of the field for Benton and when his attempted cross was held up in the wind and gave the Tigers the lead, it looked as though the Tigers might be on course to repeat their surprise win from earlier in the month.
But the Flyers were eager to put the record straight, and within three minutes were level when Clifton Coleman’s cross from the right side was neatly deflected into the goal at the near post by Bantle. Midway through the half, Vitacca deflected a shot into the far corner as the Flyers piled on the pressure and tried to take full advantage of the wind, giving them a 2-1 lead at the half.
Sam deBerardinis came within a whisker of stretching Loyola’s lead just 3 minutes into the second half when his free kick from outside the penalty area was neatly saved by Benton goalkeeper Chase VanZant, but on ten minutes the game was effectively secured when Vitacca blasted a shot from 30 yards into the top corner giving VanZant no chance. For the remaining 30 minutes the Flyers were content with maintaining possession and making sure Benton had no way back into the game.
“We knew they had the wind advantage in the second half so it was important for us to keep possession and make sure they didn’t come back at us. It would have been nice to get more goals in the first half, but we felt like we had done enough. It’s a nice feeling to win district but now we have to carry this into the playoffs.”