GREENFIELD — What once was a two-team race for first-place in the Hoosier Heritage Conference is now three.
New Palestine entered Thursday night as the last remaining undefeated team in the conference standings, but the host Greenfield-Central Cougars changed that with a 2-1 victory in regulation to bring the Dragons back with the pack.
The Cougars jumped ahead 2-0 in the second half behind two goals from Enrique Ferrara and held the Dragons to just one goal in the 79th minute to win their second straight.
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Prior to their back-to-back wins, the Cougars (6-4-1, 4-1 HHC) lost three straight to Franklin Community, Mt. Vernon (10-2, 5-1 HHC) and Class A No. 9 Heritage Christian.
“With dropping 1-0 to Mt. Vernon, we knew we still had a chance at a share of the conference title,” Greenfield-Central head coach Isaac Beal said after his team’s win. “It was in our hands to win out and make it competitive and even.”
Through the first half, both teams battled to a scoreless tie despite the Cougars ramped up attack, creating several scoring opportunities.
Greenfield-Central had nine shots and four shots on goal before intermission, forcing New Palestine goalkeeper Erik Silvey into two saves. New Palestine countered with five shots and two shots on goal, but Ferrara nearly gave his team an early lead.
Just missing a shot wide at the 36-minute mark, Ferrara had a few more looks at the net along with Braiden Sticka, who ricocheted a shot off the crossbar 11 minutes into the match.
In the second half, the Cougars continued to press the Dragons (9-2-1, 4-1 HHC), scoring their first goal off a free kick after a foul call as Ferrara was attacking in the box.
Tripped up on the play, Ferrara got up, dusted himself off and then beat Silvey on the one-on-one kick, sliding the ball into the right corner and a 1-0 lead.
“Once we got that first goal, we got our momentum going up,” Ferrara said. “Once we got that, we had confidence.”
A questionable call, according to New Palestine coach Jeff Burger, but there was little argument on the second goal.
With 15:32 left in the match, Clay Kelley connected with Ferrara for his second goal. Ferrara sprinted toward the box from the left side as Kelley offered a through ball and the former slide tackled the ball into the net.
“Me and him made eye contact, and as soon as he saw me, I made that run,” Ferrara said.
New Palestine broke up Eli Diehr’s shutout attempt with a goal from Levi Miller and 1:15 remaining, but could do nothing more. Diehr finished with five saves.
The loss was New Palestine’s first in six matches.
“The mission was to get back to the way we were playing at the start of the season,” Beal said. “We lost three straight games, and I thought in each of them we played really well in the first half, possessing the ball, but in each one we dropped off in the second half.
“It was good to see us put two solid halves together and especially put two goals inside the net in the second half.”