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Mt. Vernon soccer refuses to lose

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New Palestine — It happened again. It wasn’t in quite the same fashion as their previous two meetings, but the Mt. Vernon boys soccer team once again managed to break the heart of its Hoosier Heritage Conference foe New Palestine.

Unlike the defensive struggles of the recent past, however, this Tuesday evening match was a shootout from the start. After host New Palestine settled into the drivers’ seat by netting three goals in the first half, Mt. Vernon responded with three of its own in the second to knot the wild rivalry game at 3-3.

An additional 14 minutes of extra play couldn’t settle anything, so the game was sent to penalty shots. A short six kicks later (MV 4, NP 2), and the Marauders wound up with the same result they had in the previous two meetings of these teams, a slaying of a devastated Dragons squad.

Perhaps one of the spoils of victory is being able to say you’d have rather won in a different way.

That’s an opportunity Mt. Vernon coach Aaron Britt was afforded after his team came back from behind three goals and on to victory.

“This is the worst possible way to end this kind of game,” Britt said. “I mean it’s nice to win, but it’s not the way you want to do it. Each team played so well at times. You want to settle the game playing soccer, not by shooting penalties, which is sort of just chance.”

Mt. Vernon coach Bobby Holden has an answer for that.

“If he doesn’t want the win, I’ll take it.”

While maybe not ideal, Britt had to be pleased his team left New Palestine (2-1-1, 0-1 HHC) with a win on its ledger. Because at halftime, it certainly didn’t look as if there were any chance of Mt. Vernon (4-1, 3-0 HHC) walking off the field with a crucial HHC victory.

After 40 minutes of play, the Dragons owned a 3-0 lead against the Class 2A No. 20 Marauders, and the match didn’t look as if it was going to finish as anything other than a blowout.

“We came out flat,” Britt said. “Coming off the holiday weekend, we didn’t train on Monday, and it showed in the first half. New Pal outworked and outplayed us in the first half and got on the board.”

More than once. In fact, it was within a dominating 17-minute stretch in the first half that the Dragons would do all of their damage.

Their first goal came about 18 minutes into the game on a beautiful short pass inside the 18-yard box from junior Ryan Miller to senior Matthew Ernster, who had made a clever run to cut through the Marauders’ defense. Ernster took his shot after one touch of the ball, sliding it past the keeper and sending New Palestine to an early 1-0 lead.

About eight minutes later, the Dragons struck again, this time on a penalty kick. Senior Bo Owen was working the ball inside the 18-yard box when he tried to turn and was taken hard to the ground. The officials immediately awarded the Dragons a penalty kick, and for his trouble, Owen was allowed to take it. He capitalized and pushed the Dragons lead to two.

Finally, a few minutes later, senior Caleb Kramer added what looked to be icing on the cake. After continuous pressure from the Dragons, an errant clear attempt by a Marauders’ defender bounced onto the foot of Kramer who lined a missile past Mt. Vernon goalkeeper Luke Yeadon from the top of the 18-yard box. It was 3-0, and the game had all the makings of sweet revenge for the Marauders.

But, as a frustrated Holden would say after the game, “momentum changed.”

He wasn’t sure how. He didn’t change his game plan from the first half. The Marauders hadn’t suffered any injuries. All he could say was that no one would forget this game any time soon.

“Moving forward, we don’t dwell on it,” he said. “But we’ll definitely remember it.”

Probably because it will linger like a nightmare in the minds of him and his players.

The first of Mt. Vernon’s goals on the road to comeback came seemingly out of nowhere. The Marauders had been pressing the ball down the field in hopes of either coaxing the Dragons’ defense into making a mistake or giving a forward a chance to work some magic. The latter occurred when senior Matt Powell took in a 25-yard pass, nimbly dribbled past a pair of New Palestine defenders and created a one-on-one opportunity with Dragons’ goalkeeper Kyle Rodebeck.

Powell, who had six goals coming into Tuesday night’s tilt, knew how to finish, and did, sliding the ball past Rodebeck to cut the lead to 3-1.

For almost a half an hour after that goal, however, the game showed no signs of concluding with the wild finish it did.

The teams battled evenly for those next 30 minutes with neither team garnering much of a real scoring opportunity. That is until New Palestine made a crucial error.

With less than five minutes remaining in a 3-1 game, the Dragons defense played a ball back to Rodebeck. Rodebeck, though, began to feel pressure from charging Marauders senior Jacob Thomas. Rodebeck tried to clear, but Thomas was able to block the attempt and keep it in front of him. Then, without a defender in sight, all Thomas had to do was dribble around Rodebeck and finish, which he did, cutting what had earlier seemed an insurmountable lead into a one-goal deficit.

Still, a game-tying goal in less than five minutes seemed a tall order. But the Marauders and especially Thomas were up to the task. With just over a minute remaining in the game, the Marauders were awarded a free kick from just outside the penalty box.

“The set piece was brilliant,” Britt said. “I was just trying to get my guys relaxed. You know it’s crunch time; you’re inside of two minutes, and it’s tough to not just freak out and put the ball over the top.”

Thomas didn’t freak out. Rather, he apparently thrived on the pressure of the situation, bending a shot around a Marauders’ wall into the net to tie the game at three.

After that goal, as Holden had observed, all the momentum had shifted to the side of New Palestine.

It came as no surprise that after the brief overtime with very few scoring chances, the Marauders were able to complete their amazing comeback in the penalty shootout.

“You never want to put yourself in the position we put ourselves,” Britt said. “But to know that our team has the ability and the heart to get the job done is a good feeling.”

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