ASHLAND — It may have not been the game plan Sacred Heart coach Travis Cairer originally drew up, but nonetheless it worked to a tee.
At least for 87 minutes of scoreless play.
Sporting a five-man defensive back that bent but didn’t break, Sacred Heart looked primed to force penalty kicks in Wednesday night’s sectional matchup against Southern Boone.
But the deeper Eagles (25-2) — who were camped out by Sacred Heart’s net for the entire second half and the majority of overtime — finally found the back of the net as Jacob Moore’s cross connected with Landon Bartel for the game-winner in the eighth minute of overtime.
“We were struggling on getting players up ... and we kind of filtered back to play more defensive ball against a team like that,” said Cairer, whose team lost 3-1 to the Eagles earlier in the year. “We just didn’t have too much going forward.”
What made matters worse was Dylan Hoz-Kurland going down late in the second half with a knee injury.
“Dylan stayed back quite a bit and kind of played our center-mid, and when he went down, we had to filter back even more,” Cairer said.
Garrett Strange, who took over in goal for Orion Fischer during the district tournament, was a force with 14 saves. Meanwhile, Southern Boone keeper Taylor Crow made four saves against a timid Gremlin offense.
“I was yelling at them the entire first half to move up,” Cairer said. “But earlier in the week, I told them we needed to have a good defensive effort and guess they just kind of took that to heart.”
For the Gremlins (18-8), who defeated the Eagles 1-0 last year in sectionals, the loss marked the first time in three years they failed to make it to the state quarterfinals.
And while they didn’t have many scoring opportunities, the Gremlins had their chances early on.
It was a quiet first half for both teams, who fired off just six shots combined. Only two of those were on goal, one of which could have swung the momentum for Sacred Heart.
The Gremlins looked cautious and afraid to go for broke on the offensive end and leave their brick wall of a defense — led by sweeper Lakin Kehde and Jacob Orell — compromised. But even with the lack of aggressiveness, Sacred Heart almost found the back of the net.
On a perfect lead from Darius Dietrich, Ismael Lineras raced down the middle of the field with just McGee between him and the goal. The senior’s effort, however, bounced wide left.
“That’s just the way it happens sometimes,” Cairer said. “He’s torn up about it and would like to have it back, but you can’t do anything about it.”
After halftime, it was all Southern Boone. The Eagles outshot Sacred Heart 13-2, but the Gremlins, and more specifically Strange, survived every shot off the crossbar (it happened twice) and point-blank look.
But in overtime, the Eagles wouldn’t be denied as they set up a quarterfinal meeting with 24-0-1 Springfield Catholic.