The Lions are so close they can practically taste the playoffs.
Cottage Grove (7-4 overall, 4-2 league) made the trip north and defeated the Elmira Falcons (2-8, 0-6) last Tues., Oct. 15 by a score of 3-1. The victory kept the Lions alone in second place in the Sky-Em league and they will secure a top-two finish with just one more win.
Elmira came out hard on defense, moving five, six and even seven players into the defensive half to prevent Cottage Grove from scoring. It worked early as the Falcons held the Lions scoreless for nearly the entire first half, scoring one themselves against a lackluster first-half defensive effort from Cottage Grove.
“There’s nothing they did that I wasn’t expecting,” Cottage Grove head coach Vern Stewart said. “I didn’t expect it to be a wide open game. I figured they’d hunker down and make it a defensive struggle.”
Cottage Grove succumbed to the Falcons’ backline pressure, lacking focus in the early going and giving Elmira a slight advantage in the first forty minutes.
“We need to make sure we play our game, don’t let them establish things … and regardless of what you tell your players, it’s up to them to play the way they should be playing,” Stewart said.
“It wasn’t our best game … but it’s like I told the guys: even ugly wins we’ll take.”
Some passionate redirection from Stewart just before halftime - and an equalizer goal by freshman Aldo Rea - woke his team up in time to turn things around.
“Our talk at the half was basically just, ‘we’re reacting instead of creating’,” Stewart said. “One of the things that happens when you play a team that doesn’t have quite as much talent as you do, you tend to play down to their level … but you’ve gotta be the one creating things instead of reacting to what they’re doing.”
The creation began for real in the second half as the Lions came out roaring and didn’t look back.
Rea, who has been a goal-scoring machine for his team all season long, tacked on another score in the first five minutes of the second half and the Lions’ defense did some hunkering down of their own, holding Elmira scoreless in the second half and severely limiting their offensive opportunities.
Rea would finish a third time later in the half, completing his hat trick and putting the game out of reach of a Falcons comeback.
This was also the first game against Elmira since junior forward Shambay Gabriel Trapp suffered a horrific broken leg in the teams’ previous matchup. Trapp will miss the rest of the soccer season, as well as the basketball season, but has recently been able to return to school.
The Lions now need just one more win to guarantee themselves a playoff spot as one of the top-two finishers in the Sky-Em league. They will next play at number-one ranked Marist (10-0-1, 6-0) on Thurs., Oct. 24 for their final game of the regular season.