WATSON – Live Oak defeated both Central and the wind Saturday night in a wild 2-1 finish that saw two scores inside the final four minutes.
A hearty north-south sustained gust dominated the District 4-Division II match, drastically altering the style of soccer played by both sides.
“It was a big part of the game,” Central’s Hector Elias said. “Whenever the wind was against us it was hard for the goalkeeper to take goal kicks and punts. Whenever we hit the ball in the air, it just went against us. We couldn’t really do anything about it.”
As a result, both offenses were stifled for most of the game. The Eagles (12-10-3, 5-0 in district) took seven shots and placed three on goal along with four corners and a free kick.
The Wildcats (11-6-0, 3-1) nearly matched that output with six shots and three on target as well, taking two corners and three free kicks, one of which came on the edge of the penalty area.
“The wind like this will affect anything,” Central coach Wes Melton said. “It’s brutal.”
Both teams shifted their focus in the last quarter of the game to short, quick passes to build attacks and kept their shots low to the turf.
From there, both teams found relative success once the game began to open up.
“(If) We play on the ground, the wind doesn’t bother us,” Live Oak coach Zach Miller said. “When it got to halftime 0-0, there was no panic. We knew that we could play into the wind. I knew that we would be able to handle it.”
Live Oak’s Jackson Bryant, who scored both of his team’s goals, believed the Eagles best approach was a simple one.
“We had to be more technical,” he said. “We had to take more quick passes on the ground instead of trying to put it over because it would push it back or over our back line’s heads. Keeping it on the ground helped with that.”
Live Oak took the lead in the 67th minute when a through ball set up Bryant inside the penalty area. The Central goalkeeper came off his line to collect the ball but misjudged the angle and let the ball skip by him after tipping it.
Bryant was able to redirect the ball into the back of the net.
“It just bounced off the goalkeeper’s hands,” Bryant said. “I was following it up on the other side and I hit it in with my right foot.”
Nearly 10 minutes later, Central tied the game when Hector Elias used the wind to his advantage, striking a low-flying laser from 25 yards out.
Elias’ shot was already hit with pace, but with the added speed of the wind, the ball was nearly unstoppable and Live Oak goalkeeper Nick Magee got a late jump and couldn’t get to it in time.
Less than a minute after the equalizer, Live Oak regained the lead following an aggressive push in the following kickoff.
“Communication,” Melton emphasized. “Both of the goals we gave up were breakdowns in communication. It’s something that I’ve preached forever. Talking to each other, listening to each other, trusting each other. We had a breakdown and it cost us dearly.”
Following an initial shot that was blocked, the rebound rolled directly to the feet of Bryant, who quickly ushered the ball into the back of the net for the go-ahead goal.
“He just found himself in the right spot a couple of times,” Miller said.