By RANDY CAVIN
Special to The Messenger
Obion Central took a big step that has been eluding the boys’ soccer team. Now the Rebels are looking to climb even higher.
The Rebels got the monkey off their and fourth-year head coach Daniel Johnston’s backs with their first-ever Region 7 A-AA semifinal win after beating Milan 5-4 in two sudden death overtime periods. The Rebels had made it to the semifinals twice before against Westview but could not make it to the finals.
The Rebels (14-1) are ensured of at least two more games. Central will play Crockett County Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the soccer field at Milan City Park. The semifinal win also puts the Rebels in their first-ever sectional game on May 18. A win in the sectionals will send Central to the state tournament.
A win on Tuesday will give OC a home sectional game. A loss will send the Rebels on the road and they would likely have to travel to Memphis, according to Johnston.
“This gives us two more lives,” Johnston said. “This is our first time ever in the title game and out first time in a sectional.”
Johnston pumped his fists in the air and the bench players rushed their teammates when that final whistle blew. It was a moment of relief for all as the game nearly went Milan’s way.
“You think you have it figured out one minute with things going our way for five or 10 minutes,” Johnston said. “Then the next thing you know, you are pinned back in your own box scrambling for your life. We pulled it out today.”
There was plenty of scrambling in this semifinal game. OC was down 2-1 and thought it had tied the game with 20:25 to play, but the Rebels were called for an offside penalty. Milan scored one minute later to make 3-1.
Eric Torres fed the ball to Mario Ramirez, who punched the ball into the net when he caught the Milan goalie down on the ground and unable to stop him with just over 15 minutes to play to make it a 3-2 game.
The Bulldogs were looking like they would be celebrating instead of the Rebels when Torres took a feed from Ramon Acevedo and got the kick past the goalie to tie the game with under a minute to play.
“I was yelling you have two minutes left, then yelling you have one minute left and you cannot slack off at all,” Johnston said. “We got one in.”
A pushing in the box foul was called against Milan in the first 10-minute overtime, and Alejandro Ramirez sailed a penalty kick past Milan’s diving goalie to give the Rebels their second lead of the game.
“Alejandro has been very sure-footed as far as penalty kick shots go,” Johnston said. “He has had several this year, and I am pretty sure he is 100 percent or close to it.”
The first OT ended with Central leading 4-3 with one more 10-minute period to play, and Jackson Smith gave the Rebels some breathing room in that one when he snaked his way through several Milan players to net the ball with 5:15 to play.
Milan scored with under two minutes remaining to make it 5-4, but the Rebels kept up the pressure and did not allow the Bulldogs another shot at the goal.
“I told them after we got that two-goal lead you cannot let them get their bearings or something figured out,” the Central coach said. “We slacked off a little bit, and they snuck a goal in there. We were trying to kill the clock just to get out of here with a win, and we did. Now we get to go to the championship.”
The Bulldogs won the toss to start the game and elected to let Central have the strong wind at its back first so they could take advantage of it in the second half. But, that had very little bearing on the outcome of the game because the wind calmed down considerably as the sun sank lower in the sky.
“We have a couple of players that can just blast the ball,” Johnston said. “In this weather, it was sucking the ball back in 10 yards every time we tried to do it high. Once we figured out we cannot do that anymore, it actually played into our strength. We are more of a control-type team anyway.”
Mario Ramirez put OC on top 1-0 when he had a wide open shot at the net about 11 minutes into the game. Milan tied it 12 minutes later and took a 2-1 lead on a penalty kick with 22 minutes to play in the first half. Alejandro Ramirez just missed tying the game at 2-all as a kill kick at the 2:40 mark sailed over the goal.
Mario Ramirez netted two goals with Torres, Alejandro Ramirez and Smith scoring one each. Alberto Acevedo had seven saves on goal.
Published in The Messenger 5.10.13