PHILADELPHIA In an early-season meeting for supremacy against Indian River on Thursday night, the Watertown boys soccer team found itself down but certainly not out even though its prospects appeared grim.
Trailing by a goal in the second half, the Cyclones lost their starting goalkeeper Noah Taylor to injury. But despite experiencing a gamut of emotions, they rose to the challenge to overcome this adversity.
Watertown scored three goals in the final 29 minutes, including two tallies from Eric Gibbs, and the deciding goal from Tyrell Thomas, to rally past Indian River, 3-1, in a physical A Division encounter in the Frontier League.
Noah is a real strong, tough kid so whenever you see him stay down like that, its not good, Cyclones senior Brad McKinney said. We know hes a fighter, so when you see that your prayers go out to him and you hope hes alright.
It was really emotional ... but we found a way to compose ourselves and carry on, Gibbs said.
The Cyclones, who improved to 7-0, continued their mastery of their rival by handing the Warriors (5-1) their first loss of the season to maintain their lead in the division.
This is probably our biggest win of the year, Thomas said. We know whenever we play Indian River its always going to be our toughest game. They always come ready to play.
Taylor, a senior, was forced to leave the game with concussion-like symptoms after he collided with the Warriors Tyler Cook after booting the ball out of harms way with 28:30 remaining in regulation.
After Taylor was replaced temporarily by Brad McKinney and then by junior defender Marcus Lavarnway, who had never before tended goal at the varsity level.
I think at first we were in shock and, as it sunk in, they wanted to win the game for Noah, Watertown coach Todd Heckman said. Marcus Lavarnway had never really practiced as a goalie at all, but he volunteered to jump in ,and he did a great job for us.
Watertown responded to losing one of their leaders by scoring twice within a span of 12 1/2 minutes to take the lead.
Certainly you saw the competitive spirit of kids rise when their teammate went down, Indian River coach Fred LaVancha said. It says a lot about the group of kids wearing purple tonight they got together and they were fighting for that cause ... they certainly competed their tails off and took it to us.
The Cyclones drew even as Gibbs headed in an aerial volley from Kenny Schimpf into the right side of the net in the 56th minute.
Thomas followed with the go-ahead goal, taking a pass from Schimpf, moving down the right side and then lifting a shot just under the crossbar for a 2-1 advantage with 12:27 left.
We just kept on fighting, Heckman said. I thought it was going to come in the second half for us and we were determined.
Gibbs provided his team with a two-goal cushion by finishing off a feed from McKinney in the 79th minute.
Lavarnway made three saves over the last 26 minutes to secure the win, including making a clutch stop with 3:30 left. Lavarnway experienced a close call as Indian Rivers Kyle Smith lifted the rebound off the crossbar.
Heckman credited McKinney along with defenders Christian and Colin Jorden and LJ White for an outstanding job of keeping Indian River to a minimum of chances throughout the game, particularly after Taylor left.
Over the course of the season, a lot of people have stepped up, Gibbs said. And I think tonight really showed the depth of our team.
Taylor, who had recorded four shutouts and had allowed only three goals heading into Thursday, was taken to Samaritan Hospital in Watertown for precautionary observation after the game.
We hope Noah is OK hes a great keeper and a great kid, LaVancha said. Some of our kids are heading down to the hospital to check on him.
Junior Malinoski had provided Indian River a 1-0 lead, scoring on a penalty kick in the 25th minute after he was tripped up.
Indian River will play at Watertown at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 in the regular-season finale for both teams.