So when rivals Leland & Gray came to Baker Field Tuesday night, Hayford knew it would be another tough battle. The Rebels retained several players from last year, including baseball standout Tyler Russell. Hayford also knew Rebels’ coach Chris Barton would have his team ready from the get-go.
Early in the first half, Leland & Gray was awarded a penalty kick when a Rebel striker was tripped in the box. Russell faked out Wildcats’ goalie Tony Bernard, tucked it into the left-hand corner and the Rebels led, 1-0.
Shortly afterward the Wildcats’ defense made a costly error in not covering Rebels’ midfielder Noah Chapin. Chapin sprinted up the field to reach a Rebels’ pass. Bernard ran out of the goal to stop Chapin’s attack but Chapin corked one into a wide-open net and the Rebels doubled the score, 2-0.
With minutes to play in the first half, the Wildcats were awarded a restart outside the box. Co-captain Jared Cipriano teed one up from 25 to 30 yards out. The ball sailed into the upper right-hand corner, out of the reach of Rebels’ goalie Jared Van Osdol. Cipriano raised his arms in jubilation.
But Leland & Gray scored one more time. Leland & Gray took another shot at Bernard who deflected the ball off to his right. With the defense out of position, Russell took the ball and tucked it in the lower left-hand corner to make it 3-1, Rebels, at halftime. “They made three mistakes and it resulted in three goals. I couldn’t fault their effort. But you have to eliminate the mistakes or else you lose the game,” said Hayford.
The Wildcats took the coach’s advice to heart. The Wildcats fought for 50-50 balls and kept the ball out of their zone. Sweeper George Molner hammered the ball into the box where Scotty Hayford was waiting. Hayford jumped up, headed the ball, and knocked it past Van Osdol. The score was now 3-2, Rebels.
Minutes later, midfielder Dylan Speigel intercepted a Rebels pass and fed the ball to a wide-open Hayford. Van Osdol held back in goal. Hayford walked in and tapped it away to tie the score, 3-3.
The Wildcats slowed down their momentum and the Rebels took advantage. Leland & Gray’s Colin Nystrom moved the ball into the box with few white jerseys defending Bernard. Nystrom booted the ball past Bernard and put the Rebels back on top at 4-3. The Rebels held the lead until the final minute, when the miracle of miracles came the Wildcats’ way.
With less then 20 seconds left in regulation, Molner booted the ball in a desperate attempt to move the ball upfield. Hayford had his back to the goal and got his head on it. The ball spiraled slowly into the net, stunning the Rebels into silence and sending the Wildcats’ bench into pandemonium. Hayford’s header sent the game into overtime for a sudden death showdown.
Both teams struggled in the first overtime, but the Wildcats appeared to have a stronger desire to win. The Wildcats’ defense held strong. They cleared the ball to the midfield. Cipriano contained it, dished out a pass to Hayford, and beat his opponents.
Once again, Hayford went one-on-one with Van Osdol. Hayford knew the routine and dumped the ball into the right-hand corner for the win. Hayford scored the winning goal. His teammates and classmates ran onto the field and pig-piled him. “That goal was just sheer luck,” said Hayford.
As for Coach Hayford, this Wildcats-Rebels battle goes down as one of the top ten games in his 28-year career.
“I’ve seen a lot of games. That ranks up there with some of the most exciting of all times,” said Hayford.
The Wildcats play Stratton at home on Friday at 7 pm. Leland & Gray will get a second chance at the Wildcats on Tuesday at Leland & Gray. Kickoff is at 5:30 pm.
For more coverage on the Wildcats’ 3-0 loss to Springfield visit www.deerfieldvalleysports.blogspot.com.