COLUMBUS — After playing one of the finest first halves in the program’s history, the Liberty boys soccer team might have thought the Cleveland St. Ignatius Wildcats changed places with the hometown Columbus Crew in the second.
The Patriots controlled St. Ignatius in the first 40 minutes and held a one-goal lead at the half, but the Wildcats erupted in the second, scoring three unanswered goals, two in a span of 5:02 early in the second half, for a 4-2 victory in the Division I State Championship game Friday night before a large crowd at frigid Columbus Crew Stadium.
“We talked about playing the same way we did in the first half,” Liberty coach Rick Collins said. “We knew they were going to come at us, but we made a mistake on the first goal in the second half and that just changed the game. Once they scored that goal, you could see the momentum turn.”
St. Ignatius (22-1) earned its fifth state title and its third in four years, while Liberty (16-3-3), attempting to defeat the top three teams in the final Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association’s Division I poll in succession, came up two goals short.
The game was back and forth early on, but Liberty broke the ice quickly in the first half. Junior midfielder Zach Matheny advanced the ball along the right side before sending a crossing pass to the left side to junior forward Jared Robinson.
Robinson crossed over into the middle of the field, found an opening and fired a shot from about 25 yards out that sailed past St. Ignatius senior goalkeeper Brendan Cash into the top left of the net with 30:21 left in the first half.
“We talked about coming out strong, coming out hard and dictating the pace of the game, and I don’t think they expected us to do that,” Collins said. “We found success on the wings and got behind their defense.”
But the Wildcats didn’t take long to get the equalizer — just 22 seconds, in fact. Off the kickoff, St. Ignatius worked the ball into the Liberty end and into the 18-yard box, where Matt Foldesy took the ball off a Patriot deflection and shot it past junior keeper Anderson deAndrade with 29:59 left in the half.
Play was rough all around as the officials let little pushes and holds go, but the Patriots persisted and got a solid chance in the 28th minute.
Junior midfielder Sam DeRoy intercepted a Wildcat pass, sprinted toward goal and passed to Matheny on the right side just outside the box. Matheny quickly shot the ball back to DeRoy.
The junior’s first attempt was stopped by Cash, but rebounded back to DeRoy, who then stuffed the ball back into the net with 11:39 left in the half, giving the Patriots their 2-1 halftime edge and sending them into the locker room confident.
“I knew we were capable of playing with this team,” Collins said. “I knew we had the ability, and it just shows that these kids can play at this level. I had no doubt about that.”
But in the second half, St. Ignatius emerged a new team, winning balls, attacking the Liberty net and getting chances only an experienced team can get.
The Patriots got the first chance in the second half as Matheny’s cross on goal was gathered in by Cash, but the Wildcats tied the score less than a minute later when junior Jacob Roth served a ball into the right side of the 18, where junior Nate Fahey hit it on the fly past deAndrade to tie the game with 37:46 left.
Just over five minutes later, the Wildcats took the lead when Foldesy crossed a ball into the box for Roth, who blasted it by a diving deAndrade with 32:43 left.
“Credit them,” Collins said. “They made some adjustments in the second half and we just didn’t find the space behind, and we also weren’t possessing the ball in the midfield, and that really hurt us. We probably lost 90 percent of the balls in the first five minutes of the half.”
Liberty tried to get attacks going after the goal to equalize, but St. Ignatius gave the Patriots very little in the second half while the Wildcat attack continued to split the Liberty defense.
St. Ignatius slammed the door in the 67th minute on a corner kick, when Foldesy served the ball near the middle of the box on the left side to Roth, who then headed the ball past deAndrade with 13:03 left.
“Give them credit,” Collins said. “They kept pressuring us and pressuring us and we broke down. They’re a great team.”
St. Ignatius held the shooting advantages with a 16-12 edge in total shots and a 6-5 advantage in shots on goal. St. Ignatius also had three corner kicks to the Patriots’ two. Liberty had two fewer fouls, six to the Wildcats’ eight, but had two offside calls to St. Ignatius’ one.
deAndrade took a rare defeat, facing six shots and saving two. Cash faced five shots and saved three for the win for St. Ignatius.