Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Oct. 13 newspaper on Page B2.
For eight graduating Bulldogs and their teammates on the Athens varsity boys’ soccer team, Thursday’s Senior Night was an evening to remember fondly — but it included a first-half performance against Wood Country Christian they might prefer to forget.
Sluggish and imprecise out of the gate, the Bulldogs (13-2-1) mustered a much better second-half showing and senior striker Danny Goetz again shined to down the Wildcats 4-1 at R. Basil Rutter Field in The Plains.
Goetz tallied four goals, giving him 64 in his Athens career, in the come-from-behind victory over the visitors from Williamstown, West Virginia.
“It felt good to get a win,” Goetz said, who was coming off a six-goal performance against North Adams. “In the first half we struggled but we came together as a team and won.”
The Bulldogs were noticeably out of sync for much of the opening half, with sloppy passing and missed opportunities complicated by a Wildcat back line that held steady.
Outgunned and often with 11 players positioned deeply on their own half of the pitch, WCC (7-6-1) struck first and awkwardly 23 minutes into the contest on a 45-yard free kick by Camden Huck.
The senior launched an arcing ball that took a titanic “turf bounce” over Athens’ senior goalkeeper, Finn Mitchell, and into the net.
“That early goal definitely woke us up,” Goetz said.
And that it did, eventually.
With 2:15 left in the half, senior defender Wesley Dodrill fed a 30-yard pass to Goetz, who controlled the ball and slid it past WCC goalkeeper Ben Weekley to tie the match heading into the break.
The Bulldogs then jumped on the Wildcats early in the second stanza, showing the speed, passing acuity, and aggressive demeanor that earned Athens a No. 3 seeding in their half of the bracket for the upcoming Southeast District Soccer Tournament.
Just two minutes had rolled off the clock when Weekley deflected a laser-like, 25-yard shot from the foot of junior midfielder Andrew Lewis.
The rebound fell to Goetz, who calmly poked the ball into the net to put the Bulldogs in front.
Goetz hit pay dirt again at the 20-minute mark, thanks to an ineffective clearance by a Wildcat defender.
With an uncanny nose for the ball, Goetz pounced on the opportunity and buried a surgical strike into the bottom-left corner of the WCC goal.
He then capped off the night after receiving another fine pass from Dodrill. Goetz delicately controlled the delivery, turned, and snuck the ball between the posts.
Athens finished with a whopping 32 shots.
Going into the playoffs, when anything can happen, maintaining mental toughness is key, especially if a team falls behind early, Athens coach Simon Diki said.
“At some point you have to say, ‘Know what? Let’s get together, have confidence, and keep pushing’,” Diki explained.
Diki was especially pleased that his eight seniors — Goetz, Dodrill, Mitchell, Aziz Al-Harbi, Will Pigman, Brian Johnson, Zach Riefler, and Mason Mauzy — ended the regular season on an up note.
“I’m so happy that we came back with a strong second half,” Diki said.
The Bulldogs will face Warren at home on Thursday at 5 p.m. to open the Southeast District Soccer Tournament. Athens defeated Warren 3-1 in Vincent and beat the Warriors 4-2 at home this season.