By Dalton Tinklenberg
WARSAW – The Warsaw Tigers boys soccer team hosted the Goshen RedHawks Thursday evening looking to position themselves for at least a share of a regular season Northern Lakes Conference title. The Tigers emerged victorious by a score of 3-2.
The crowd was a lively one as fans enjoyed a celebration of Hispanic heritage while cheering on their Tigers. The game started off relatively quiet as both teams looked to really size up one another. The back and forth looked as if it would go on all night until a misplaced header wound up in the back of the Warsaw goal. It was here that the Tigers were faced with a critical decision. They could fold under the weight of the mistake or battle back with heart.
They chose the latter.
Almost immediately, Warsaw knotted the score at one apiece when Isaiah VanPuffelan blasted a ball past the Goshen goalkeeper.
“This is just fun,” said Warsaw head coach Ryan Burgher. “Last year we had a rough year. We lost 16 seniors the year before. We ended up like 1-13-1 and last in the conference. Then just to come out here and compete with some of these teams, some of these really good teams, and be right there for the conference championship, you can just tell the guys are loving it and we’re really going after it this year. It’s just a fun group of guys.”
Things would remain tied heading into the break. After the halftime period, Warsaw looked like a team on a mission. The Tigers swarmed the RedHawks and quickly overpowered the visiting team. With a goal from Roberto Sanchez and a second for VanPuffelan, Warsaw saw the lead extend to a comfortable 3-1 advantage.
“I told them that we can’t continue to give corner kicks. We can’t give free kicks. They had some big guys that were really dangerous and we’re not the best in the air,” said Burgher on what he told his team at halftime. “I told them we need to stop doing that. I told them our defensive center mids need to make sure they’re not taking the shots from the outside because I really thought there were a couple of ways they were going to score so we were going to try and take those away.
“Then I just told the guys that if we won or tied this game, we were still number one in conference and if we beat Wawasee and Northridge then this is the first outright conference championship Warsaw has had in 10 years. I think we had one a few years ago that was a co-championship but this would be our first all-out. You put that on and tell the guys you have 40 minutes. There’s nothing else I can do. There’s nothing else the coaching staff can do. It’s all on you from that point.”
To the credit of Goshen, the RedHawks gave Warsaw everything they could handle and rolled out a full-press assault in an effort to get back into the game. A late goal from Kovan Drenth put the RedHawks within a goal of the lead once more.
“There was nothing the coaches could do, it was all the guys,” said Burgher on his team’s ability to weather the storm late. “Earlier in the year, we had Carroll score on us in the last 11 seconds of the first half and that really changed the game for Carroll. So we just yelled different things like that. We’ll yell at them ‘Carroll, Carroll, Carroll’ just so it’s in their mind that if you let down at all the game can change in a second.”
Warsaw senior Miles Burkholder was phenomenal though, turning away several shot attempts that looked like they were locks to score. His biggest moment of the night came right at the end of the game when Goshen was awarded a penalty kick with just seconds to spare. Burkholder turned away the last chance of Goshen before the horn sounded and students rushed to the field to celebrate.
“Miles is crazy,” exclaimed Burgher. “Miles is a senior keeper who should be playing next year at some college. When there’s a PK, he comes up huge. That’s his second huge PK save of the year. Hopefully, we quit putting him in those positions. He’s doing great for us so he’s key.”
Warsaw (10-4-1, 4-0-1) leads Concord (4-1-1) by a half game in the standings and visits Wawasee on Saturday. Northridge (2-1-1) hosts Warsaw next Thursday.