Note: This recap appears in the Thursday, Sept. 19 newspaper on Page A6.
Two bitter rivals met Tuesday night in the first of two games the teams will play this season.
Alexander and Athens are no strangers to one another. The two squads split last year’s regular season games. The Bulldogs then managed a win over the Spartans in the Division II regional semifinal.
The Spartans came into Tuesday night’s game with a 7-1 record. Their last game resulted in a 5-2 win over Unioto on Thursday.
Alexander was in control in the first half due to a possession-heavy mindset. Forward Todd Norris along with wingers Tyler Fritchley and Trey Schaller kept the pressure on the Athens defenders while the midfielders showed some solid passing.
With 8:44 left in the first half, Elijah Robe tapped a long cross from Fritchley into the bottom-right corner to give Alexander a 1-0 lead.
Holding possession worked for the Spartans. They were fouled a total of four times, kicked three corners, and had two shots on goal in the first half.
As expected, the two rivals played a physical game. Bulldogs Danny Goetz and Andrew Lewis both received yellow cards.
Athens, which started the game with a 7-0 record, was held to just one shot on goal heading into the second half. The Bulldogs tend to do damage offensively, proving so in recent 5-0, 6-1, and 6-0 victories. Those struggles would not last long.
The game was tied at one following a goal from Goetz with 30:22 left in the second half. He got a pass from the left wing, dribbled at the top of the box for a bit, then smashed it into the top-right corner of the goal.
Scrappy play continued into the second half. Wesley Dodrill of Athens and Norris of Alexander received yellow cards later in the game.
The third goal of the game came in an unconventional way, much to the dismay of Athens.
Alexander marched up the field and put pressure on the Athens defenders. A ball was played to the middle of the box and, upon an attempted clearance, was deflected off a Bulldog defender and into the goal.
2-1 was the score following the own goal. That unfortunate error with 22:10 left in the game was enough to seal the victory for the Spartans.
Alexander head coach Kirk Crow applauded the possessions his team held so often during the win.
“We like to play a possession game. We want the ball at our feet,” he said. “We always focus on getting those 50-50 balls and then getting down to our feet.”
The own goal was a game-changing factor. Crow said the pressure from Kyler D’Augustino caused what turned out to be the deciding goal.
A total of three Spartans left the game with injuries in the second half. Crow chalks it up to the situation at hand.
“This is our UNC-Duke. This is our Ohio State-Michigan,” he said. “Athens’s guys played real hard. Our guys played real hard. You’re going to have some physical plays and you’re probably going to have some injuries because guys are working so hard.”
Simon Diki, Athens head coach, talked with his team extensively after the 2-1 loss.
“We deserved what happened. It was a wake-up call for the team,” he said. “It’s time to go back to work.”
“We have to improve our communication. We have to improve our style of play,” said Diki. “We have to play compact in the midfield. There are a couple things we didn’t do tonight, and in the future, we will catch up.”
Alexander improves to 8-1 while the Bulldogs go to 7-1 after suffering their first loss on the season.
The Spartans host Amanda-Clearcreek on Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Athens will travel to Marietta for a 7 p.m. game on Thursday.