By Keith Knepp
SYRACUSE — If you ask the NorthWood faithful sitting in the bleachers at Warrior Field, the calls were definitely tilted in West Noble’s favor. Honestly, they might not have been wrong.
Three of the four total goals tallied in the 3-1 Charger win were scored on penalty kicks, two by West Noble and one by the Panthers, all of which came in the second half.
The loss ended NorthWood’s dream of back-to-back sectional championships. Last year, the tables were turned as the Panthers eliminated the Chargers in Ligonier on their march to the program’s first semi-state appearance.
Both of the fouls called on NorthWood that led to PKs seemed questionable, at best, with both coming on 50-50 balls inside the NorthWood goal box. The first of the two penalties actually had been ignored by the center referee and was flagged by his assistant on the far sideline.
As an entire body of work, it seemed to Panther fans as though the official was letting both teams play a very physical game between the 18s while looking for a reason to blow the whistle inside the goal box.
Regardless, West Noble went into halftime riding a 1-0 lead on the evening’s only action goal, punched in by Alex Liera in the 27th minute. Both teams had multiple first half chances to move the scoreboard but Liera was the only one to find the net.
The Chargers second goal came less than one minute into the second stanza, following a foul call just inside the top of the goal box. West Noble star forward Henry Torres took full advantage of the freebie, knocking it past goalie Trent Iwema.
NorthWood took back some of the momentum when they were awarded a PK of their own following a hand ball by a West Noble defender inside the Charger goal box. Senior captain Michael Hahn cut the West Noble lead in half and appeared to put NorthWood back into the game.
However, another questionable call was whistled at the 19:46 mark following a West Noble direct kick. Hulking Charger Julio Macias took the shot to put his team up two and create a seemingly psychological Everest for the the Panthers.
NorthWood continued to press on for the remainder of the half, but was unable to pierce the West Noble defense to get any good looks at the frame.
“Well, its a couple of tough calls to deal with as a team,” said NorthWood head coach Kyle Dijkstra. “We came back well to get our own call, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Our seniors, they led us through this whole season. I’m so proud of those guys for what they did for us this year.”
The Panthers will graduate four from this year’s roster, including Hahn, Joey Eshelman, Aiden Schrock and Kaleb Eberle. The team finished at 7-9-2 in Dijkstra’s first season as head coach after previously serving as an assistant for longtime skipper Brad Duerksen, who moved to Florida over the summer to start the soccer program at a newly created high school near Orlando.
West Noble will move on to the championship game against Lakeland, a 4-2 winner over Angola in the evening’s nightcap. The match will be played at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wawasee.