Carter Hancock took possession of the ball and turned on the jets.
A North Ridgeville corner kick attempt late in a Division I boys soccer Sectional final match on Saturday was shut down, and three Amherst Comets, led by Hancock, raced ahead of the pack against just two Ranger defenders.
The senior veered left as he was sprinting toward the Rangers’ box, let loose a shot toward the right corner of the goal and watched as it went in, giving the Comets a 3-2 lead in the 72nd minute. Despite waves of Ranger pressure throughout the second half, that score would remain 3-2.
Eliminated from tournament play by the Rangers (10-5-2) each of the past two seasons, the fifth-seeded Comets (11-5-2) finally broke through to the Elyria District semifinals, where they’ll face No. 1 Avon tonight at 7.
“I had 10 yards of space, and then I just took it with all the speed I could,” Hancock said. “It was a fast move and then a fast shot, and it’s the best adrenaline in the world when you’re sprinting full-speed at someone. It’s game-changing.”
Hancock’s goal was the team’s only on-target shot in the half as the fourth-seeded Rangers did all they could to create chances for themselves. They attacked and took six corner kicks in the half, and attempted four of their 10 shots on goal. They fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to tie the game, the second coming on senior Andrew Ross’ goal in the 62nd minute.
Still, the Comets’ back line and the stalwart play of senior goalie Camden Gross turned the Rangers back.
“We did not execute our game plan,” Rangers coach George Panagiotou said. “We were not able to finish. I think both teams had a ton of opportunities to finish on goal, and at the end of the day we just weren’t able to get it in.”
The Rangers narrowly outshot the Comets 14-13 (10-5 on goal), but the game could’ve turned had it not been for Gross, a converted defender playing his first season in goal. He made eight saves, the most impressive being a quick-twitch grab of a North Ridgeville set piece that slipped under and around the defense and was headed to the right corner of the net in the 44th.
“Camden came up big,” Comets coach Brett Thompson said. “I don’t know how he made some of those saves. He’s never played goalie until this year. Amazing job by him back there. Those guys (on the back line) are leaders.”
Amherst took a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute on a rebound by Alex Pennington past Ranger goalie Will Jedlicka (two saves). The Rangers tied the game at one when a tripping call on Caleb McGee inside the Comet box set up a Logan Keller penalty kick, which he buried. Two minutes later, a Comets corner kick was headed backward to a waiting Jacob Rakar, who sent a screamer past Jedlicka for a 2-1 lead.
Ross’ tying goal in the second half was set up by fellow senior Shaun Crawford, who salvaged a set piece. The loss marked the final high school game for Ross and Crawford, as well as Willy Smith, Jared Bubar, Aidan Cunningham, Adam Breen, Austin Casselberry and Keller.
Besides winning 10 games for the third season in a row, the Rangers accumulated a team grade-point average of 3.5 and logged over 500 hours of community service.
“Our season was amazing,” Crawford said. “From where we started out, it was a little rough at the start of the season. We just picked it up and we have a great bond with everybody. We talk about family and our culture and it’s what guides this team and it’s what got us to where we are today.”
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