WARSAW – This truly could become one of the games people talk about for a long, long time.
Every team that makes a run in the state tournament needs a statement game. For Warsaw’s boys soccer team, a miraculous 4-3 comeback win over Culver Academy Wednesday night in the Warsaw Boys Soccer Sectional semi-finals could be that earmark.
Not many expected Warsaw to have much trouble in the sectional round, returning to the Class 2-A state tournament as the defending state runner-up and being ranked No. 9 in the state. Well, the Eagles from the Academy weren’t really worried about semantics, and stunned the home crowd with flawless execution in the first half.
Taking just two shots in the first half, Culver Academy made them both count. The first came on a counter attack after a Warsaw shot, that saw Nicholas Bissonnette streaking all alone through the Warsaw defensive third after a long service from midfield. Finding the seam between a dormant Warsaw defense, Bissonnette beat Tiger keeper Peyton Long to his left and a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
Just 16 minutes later, after Culver collected a pensive Warsaw header off the goal line, the clearance made its way back into the Warsaw third again. A pinball sequence of kicks and jabs at the ball was ended when Leonardo Rodriguez hammered home the loosey, and it was suddenly and stunningly 2-0 road squad.
Even worse for Warsaw came in the 53rd minute. Just moments after Warsaw head coach Scott Bauer asked his club for a realignment to change the pace of its sluggish offense, Culver again managed to break away into the defensive third. Drawing a penalty heading toward net, Dominic Puzevic calmly tucked away a third goal. Warsaw eyes were wide, hearts bleeding. It was 3-0 and no one could believe it.
“When you are down three goals and you make a positive adjustment, it gives the boys a little motivation,” stated Bauer. “We were without Matt (Williams), so we didn’t have the pace we usually do on the right side. So we had to find somebody with that kind of pace, and Stephen (Kolbe) was my only option. We put a lot of pressure on them.”
The Eagles would actually take a shot that was saved in the 56th minute, and from there, it was Warsaw the rest of the way.
Williams, out on suspension after a red card acquired in the season finalé against Northridge, along with an injury loss to Zach Tucker in the first half, left Warsaw needing answers in pace. Kolbe provided some resolve.
A cross from Brad O’Cock in the 59th minute toward net spun away from Academy keeper Perley Provost. A rushing Tito Cuellar was close enough to the service to distract Provost off the flight of the ball, which caromed into the side netting for a goal.
Five minutes later, Kolbe took a ricocheted corner kick to task, firing the ball into the net to cut the lead to one at 3-2. Kolbe moving forward as part of Bauer’s adjustment proved true on the strike.
Warsaw nearly equalized moments later if not for a sliding save on the line from defender Peter Talbot, but that equalizer would come sure enough.
Another feed from the right side, after some clever maneuvering from Manuel Rodriguez, Sam Allbritten knotted things at three when he buried the chance. A completely shellshocked Eagles defense stood in disbelief as five minutes remained and Warsaw had come all the way back from the dead.
“They found that fluke bounce on that first goal out of nowhere,” started Culver Academy head coach Maj. Kevin Green. “We switched formations to go a little more defensive just to make sure we could hold their attack knowing they would start having to push forward. It didn’t work out.”
Allbritten had one more rabbit in his hat. Warsaw dictated pace again as Culver began to watch the clock, and another cross into the Academy 18 found Allbritten again wide open. The junior midfielder made no bones Warsaw’s postseason would continue as his shot found the right side of the net in the 78th, setting off a wild celebration on the near side of the pitch.
“I felt like if we got a goal with some time left, it would get these guys excited,” Bauer said. “I told the guys at half this team put two goals on us in a half, we are certainly capable of putting two goals on them. When they got that third, now you have to get three goals in a half. I think the guys believed.”
If only because the game had been completely unpredictable, Culver Academy would get one final chance in the 79th minute. A flurry of desperate passes around the Warsaw penalty area had Bissonnette wind up unguarded from 15 yards out and rip a missile toward net, only for Long to make a sprawling save to his left, falling on the clutter to cap one of the more memorable sectional matchups in recent memory.
“Their skills, being able to trap the balls and our guys starting getting a little anxious,” Green said. “You look at those last two goals, the ball was actually lost in midfield when we overcommitted, and now they have numbers. The fourth goal, the defender goes sliding across thinking he’s got it. Their technical skill to pull the ball back. And geez, when you give them six chances inside the box to hit a bouncing ball, it’s pinball. By God, they are going to put one in eventually.”
Long made just the two saves on the night while Provost, who looked unflappable in the first half, settled for six saves in his final game with the Academy as a senior.
Warsaw (11-2-5) has now knocked Culver Academy from the sectional round in each of the past three seasons, including last year’s final, a 3-1 Warsaw result. Culver Academy wraps up its season 8-7-2.
Two goals from Cesar Aguilar, one from the penalty spot in the first half and another off a Gonzalo Figueroa assist in the second half was all Plymouth needed in a 2-0 result over NorthWood in the second semi-final Wednesday night at Warsaw.
NorthWood concludes its season 4-13-1, losing nine of its last 11 contests while the Pilgrims (6-11-2) will take on host Warsaw Saturday at 2 p.m. in the sectional final.
The Tigers blanked Plymouth 3-0 at home in their regular-season meeting on Aug. 29.