Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Throughout the 2012 Division I soccer tournament, the Westlake boys had played sharp, crisp soccer. The Demons were opportunistic on offense and dominating on defense, having not allowed a goal in four games.
All that came to an end Saturday morning in Sandusky.
Westlake allowed a pair of unlikely goals and could not get through Sylvan Southview’s packed-in defense in a 3-1 loss in the Region 2 championship game at Cedar Point Stadium.
The loss ended Westlake’s season and prevented the program’s second-ever appearance in the state semifinals.
It was a game that was played on relatively even terms during the first 25 minutes, even though shots taken were few and far between. Then in the 26th minute, a freak play occurred that turned the tables on the Demons’ tournament run.
In the middle of the field, just outside the box, Cougar senior Cody Schulak got off a shot. The grounder made it’s way directly to Westlake keeper Jamie Lackner, who dropped down to make the stop right in front of the net.
But somehow, some way, the ball escaped Lackner’s grasp and slowly rolled into over the line for Southview’s first goal of the game. With 14:34 left in the half, Westlake found itself trailing for the first time in weeks.
Things looked bleak for the Demons in the second half as the Cougars focused their efforts on defense. Still, Westlake had a golden opportunity for the tie in the 46th minute when Nick Wertman was awarded a free kick from about 20 yards out. The shot, however, went directly into Southview’s 4-man wall.
The Demons had to scramble defensively to stop the ensuing counter attack by the Cougars, and were successful.
In the 48th minute, a crossing pass out of the corner from Brian Sutcliffe made it near the crease, but was deflected away before Wertman could arrive. After that, a pair of Demon corner kicks failed to get the Green and White on the board.
Then with 21:49 left in regulation, Southview scored again. The ball was shot from the left side and slowly rolled through the crease toward the far post. With players from both teams converging, the ball was somehow tapped into the narrow opening for a 2-0 Southview lead.
“It’s part of the game,” admitted Westlake head coach Mike Besu of Southview’s first two goals.
“Sometimes you get the lucky bounces, and sometimes you don’t,” Besu continued. “Today, we didn’t. I can’t take anything away from our boys because it’s been a magical season. And I don’t want to take anything away from the other team, but we just didn’t play today.”
“We didn’t come ready, we didn’t play and it cost us,” he added.
Westlake got back into the game after a foul in the box with 13:54 remaining. Wertman took the penalty kick and sent a sharp grounder to the left of Cougar keeper Eric Breeden, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Westlake amped things up offensively from that point, but could not penetrate the Southview defense. A free kick from 15 yards out and to the right of the box was knocked away with eight minutes left, and an offsides call stopped a play on the ball in the box during the 77th minute.
With Lackner playing up to help the offense, Southview got a breakaway and scored an empty-net goal with two seconds left to account for the final score.
On factor working against the Demons may have been the game’s early start time. Originally scheduled for a noon kickoff, the game was pushed back to 10:30 a.m. later in the week to accommodate two more athletic events being held that day at Strobel Field.
The school’s first football playoff game since 1989 was played Friday night and went into overtime, making it a late night for the Demons. But Besu didn’t want to use that as an excuse for the loss.
“There were a bunch of things that happened. There was the change in game time, but I’m not going to make excuses. We just didn’t play well today. We’re a better team than that,” he said.
Besu said Southview’s attention turned to defense immediately after the first goal. The Cougars played particular attention to Wertman, who found himself double teamed most of the day.
“They paid a lot of attention to Nick,” Besu said. “But at the same time, if we woud have executed like we were supposed to, we would have been able to help him out. From the midfield position, we didn’t drive the ball. We just played their game.
“They didn’t do anything to hurt us. Them scoring the first goal didn’t help, but none of the three goals they scored were solid goals. They were hammering us most of the game, but we didn’t get the calls.
“But I’m not going to blame the loss on the referees. We win as a team, and we lose as a team. We didn’t give up, but it was difficult. After they scored the first goal, they were dropping six, seven guys in the back. They were trying to hold us defensively and they were just kicking the ball.
“But like I said, we didn’t execute. If we would have executed and broke them down, we would have been back in the game. Even at halftime down 1-0, we thought we were good enough to comeback and score,” he added.
With their season over, the Demons packed their gear and headed to the bus for the long trip home.
“It’s going to hurt for a couple of days. But one day they’ll realize what this was all about and the great year they had,” Besu said. “They’ll be proud of what they did. I’ve had more talented teams through the years, but I couldn’t be any more proud than I am of this group.
“We didn’t have any superstars, and we played for each other until the last whistle blew. It was fun, but what can you do...it’s time to more on,” he concluded.