Alex Williams and his Ozark teammates mixed some of their best ball on the season Saturday with some of their worst, before a final dose of the latter sealed their fate.
The Tigers' home match winning streak ended at seven, as they dropped a 4-3 decision to Chaminade.
Ozark put together a spirited rally to come all the way back from being down 3-0, only to misplay a ball in the box and allow an empty-net goal with a mere :06 remaining.
First things first, the Tigers (7-2) put themselves in what seemed an insurmountable hole by reacting to Chaminade’s play, instead of attacking themselves. They had just two shots on goal in the first half.
Most surprising, the hosts were uncharacteristically quiet from the get-go.
All this after it was Chaminade (7-1) that played the night before, pulling out a 2-0 victory at Nixa.
“I don't think we were all quite awake, yet,” said Williams, a junior forward. “We were dragging. I don't know what was happening. It started up top and moved down to the midfield and the defense.”
“Apparently, we weren't ready to play,” coach Zack Owens said.
Trailing 3-0, Owens knew the odds were stacked incredibly high against his team.
“Against an opponent like Chaminade, not many times,” he said of the chances to mount a comeback.
The Tigers redeemed themselves, while finally establishing ball-control and intercepting Chaminade passes and outracing the Red Devils to loose balls.
Midfielder Caleb Lepant and forward Phin Scott both netted a second-half goal.
“We had different conversations to figure out what we needed to do to battle back,” Williams said. “A lot of us took those conversations to heart. We possessed the ball and tried to get on the attack to score. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of great players. We had the focus to battle and score the goals to tie.”
All along, Owens maintained a level head, resulting in his players keeping their composure and leading to their comeback.
“We made some adjustments at halftime, focusing more on our style of play," Owens said, “We got to see who has grit, who's going to be valuable when we need playmakers at the end of a match and who has heart. We got to see who can push through and who can be valuable on the field for us in crucial moments. Those are things we can't coach.”
Williams triggered the comeback with a goal late in the first half. He took his shot in front of one end of the post and angled it perfectly to score at the other end.
“I was fortunate to get a good enough strike on the ball to put it in the back post,” he said.
The scoreboard inexplicably was not operating Saturday. An estimate of Scott’s tying goal is there were between 10-15 minutes still to play.
Ozark even had chances to take the lead, but a couple clean looks were off target.
After the public-address announcer gave word there was one minute to play, Chaminade gained control of the ball at the Ozark end of the field. Intitially, the Red Devils appeared to be content to go to overtime. But after passing the ball to midfield, they went on the attack.
A pass to the box initially got away from Chaminade. But the Tigers erred by letting the ball continue to roll toward the Red Devils goal, before Luke Poncirolli tapped it in, as the P.A. announcer counted down the final 10 seconds.
“It's a good teaching moment,” Owens said. “You’ve got to literally go to the very end.
“I hate losing. But I’m OK with result simply because of how well we battled back and we were mentally strong throughout the process,” he added. “We hadn't faed anybody like them yet. It was a great challenge and a great match for us to play.”
The four goals allowed are one more than the Tigers had given up during regulation in their first eight matches.
Ozark will travel to Nixa on Tuesday. The Eagles lost to Chaminade 2-0.
“We’ve got the Christian County Cup coming up,” Owens said. “Our focus immediately changes to that. We’ve had their number. But I know Nixa is going to be a tough one.”