Playoff soccer is mostly a series of blink-of-an-eye moments that are interpreted differently by the vanquished.
Such was the case Sunday, when Great Crossing led on two different occasions but couldn’t fight city hall on the calls that produced Madison Central’s equalizing, set-piece goals.
Gavin O’Shea’s clean game-winner with 5:15 remaining in regulation ended the host Warhawks’ season with a 3-2 verdict in an 11th Region boys’ quarterfinal that was blustery in multiple senses of the word.
“It’s unfortunate. There were two evenly matched teams. The score line shows that,” GC coach Nick Maxwell said. “We just got a bit unlucky on a few questionable calls that let them kind of get back into the match. We stopped doing what we needed to do (in the) second half.”
Madison Central (14-1) moved on to a Tuesday semifinal date with the Henry Clay-Lafayette winner. GC (7-3-1) fell two rounds shy of last season’s appearance in the final after successfully defending its 41st District championship.
Victimized by an early goal and beaten 3-0 on the same pitch when the teams met 15 days ago, GC seemingly flipped the script when Rodolfo Flores’ chip-in courtesy of Austin Welch drew first blood only 71 seconds into the rematch.
That lead held up for almost the entire session thanks to yeoman work by veteran defenders Zach Hamner, Trey Dice, Dane Childers and Doug Gindling in front of Connor Dias, who picked up the Warhawks’ final four wins of the season in relief of injured Michael Moeller.
But the day began to go awry when GC was whistled for obstruction in the final minute of the half. O’Shea took the indirect kick and found a seam through the Warhawks’ wall of defenders with 16 seconds to go.
“That was a terrible call by the official,” Maxwell said. “I couldn’t tell you what happened there. He clearly, I think the game might be past him now.”
The deadlock held until an exchange of penalty kicks midway through the second half.
GC struck first and grabbed a 2-1 lead when sophomore Preston Welch buried his bid with 20:38 to go. The officials ruled that the Indians illegally impeded Preston’s senior brother, Austin, as he went for a shot inside the 18-yard line.
Momentum took another fickle turn when Madison Central received a matching opportunity at the 17:16 mark. There, it was ruled Dias ran over an Indians’ offensive player in a race to a 50/50 ball at the edge of the box.
“I could tell he was out of the box, and on top of it, Connor got the ball. You could see it from my angle, and the ref was on the same line as I was,” Maxwell said. “They put us in predicaments that we shouldn’t have been in.”
Deflated from the loss of its second advantage, the Warhawks failed to pick up O’Shea’s late-game run up the right flank. He buried his 25th goal of the season to punch the Tribe’s semifinal ticket.
“The game-winning goal, they earned that one, but we should have done better there defensively,” Maxwell said. “That was a rocket. I don’t know that Connor ever saw it come off his foot. It was so fast.”
Great Crossing never mustered a serious threat after falling behind. Dice’s high shot from 35 yards in the closing seconds was the Warhawks’ closest look at the frame.
“Their young keeper (Thomas Fairchild) had a decent enough match,” Maxwell said. “I think the penalty kick took the wind out of the sails, and then the winning goal deflated us more. At that point it was tough to come back.”
GC entered the clash with a five-game winning streak after a halting start that included a two-week COVID quarantine.
Fourteen seniors graduated from last year’s squad. The addition of the Welch brothers and the continued improvement of several upperclassmen who didn’t see much playing time in 2019 had the Warhawks playing their best soccer at season’s end.
“If we had a full season, a preseason, a true season with this squad, I think the outcome might have been a little different,” Maxwell said. “Then we would’ve had time to work on things. When you’re playing three matches a week, it’s hard to really get into the nitty-gritty during training.”
Still, it’s a group that left its mark.
“They did what was required, which is defend the district. They did more too. They defended the Scott County rivalry,” Maxwell said. “It’s a tough way to go out after a match I felt was played pretty evenly. At the end of the day, we did it to ourselves. The obstruction call was a bit of a joke, but it is what it is.”