COLUMBUS – Granville’s large contingent of fans and students was ready to celebrate.
The Blue Aces were less than a minute from their first Division II girls state soccer championship, and it was all over but the shouting Friday in chilly, blustery Mapfre Stadium.
Someone forgot to tell top-ranked Akron Hoban.
Alex Sheldon slipped behind the defense for the tying goal with 47 seconds left, then assisted Liz Gilbert on the game-winner with 2:41 left in the first overtime as it was the Knights instead winning their first state title by a 2-1 count.
“Our plan was to not let them get behind us, and they got behind us twice the whole game,” lamented Granville coach Scott Forster, whose third-ranked team finished 17-4-2 and lost in the finals for the second time in three years. “The game should have been over. We had a corner kick, and the idea was to keep it in the corner and try to run the clock, which we did the other night (in the semifinals against Cincinnati Indian Hill). But we didn’t do it, and they counter attacked.”
Hoban also scored off a counter late in overtime, after Tori Long stopped a Knights’ shot with about seven minutes left, and a minute later, Elizabeth Kunce made the save on a straight-on Nikki Cox blast.
The Knights (19-2-1), which lost in the 2014 finals, were in attack mode most of the second half, after Cox’s pass ahead to Rose Sawyers with 14:54 left in the first pushed the Blue Aces up 1-0.
“We turned up the pressure,” said Knights’ coach Patrick Dobbins. “It was all about getting that one goal. We changed formation and put three in the back instead of four. If we were going to get beat by one, we might as well lose by two.”
And they almost did. Hoban dominated second-half possession, but it was Granville being the aggressor over the final 10 minutes. Sawyers was blocked in close by Kunce during a flurry in front of the net, and she covered up Cox on another point-blank shot. Cox had a longer try sail over the goal on the windy day with about five minutes left, after Hoban was yellow carded.
“Once we got that goal, we had to be disciplined behind the ball, and we were for the most part,” Forster said. “We tried to get Rose and Nikki behind them, and we were able to a couple of times.”
Dobbins knew the Knights could see Granville in the state tournament.
“I went and saw them during the season,” he said. “Nikki’s a special player, and they are a very good team. But we tried to play them all over the field, and not really mark anyone up. We had gotten this far, and didn’t really want to change everything. It’s too bad someone had to lose this game.”
Shots on goal were even at 7-7, as Kunce had six saves and Long five. Hoban totaled 16 shots to Granville’s 11, and had five corner kicks to three by the Blue Aces. But the Knights were called for 16 fouls to Granville’s five.
Cox was at a loss for words following the stunning loss, which ended a brilliant four-year career that saw her finish as Licking County and Granville’s all-time leading scorer. During her and Long’s sophomore year, the Blue Aces lost 3-1 in the finals to Rocky River.
“When we were ahead there at the end, it felt like the match was over,” she admitted. “The seniors were so close and they are my friends. We got to start this together, and finish it together. This was still good for the school and good for the girls sports programs. A lot of people were cheering us on, and it was fun.”
The five seniors came into the program at the same time Forster started as Blue Aces’ coach.
“This was the year to do it, and feel bad we couldn’t get it done for them, especially Nikki, Tori and Taylor (Beitzel),” he said. “We played a tough non-conference schedule with this game in mind. We have a lot coming back next year, but this was a very, very special team.”