Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
It took a few extra minutes Saturday night, but Avon's unbeaten 2014 season continued on.
Down 2-0 at the half, the Eagles rallied with a pair of goals in the second 40 minutes to force the match into overtime. Then in the 100th minute, Vithor Reis took a pass from Christian Giraldo and buried the ball into the back of the net to give Avon a 3-2 win in the Rocky River Division I District Tournament championship match at Joe Firment Stadium.
The state-ranked Eagles, now 17-0-2, will take on the unbeaten Copley Indians Wednesday night at Nordonia in a Division I regional semifinal. Copley,now 18-0-1, defeated Medina, 5-2, to win the Brunswick District championship Saturday night.
"Once we had that ball in their 6-yard box for a few seconds at a time, I was pretty confident something good was going to come out of it," said Avon head coach Chris Dore of his team's overtime push.
"I actually mentioned to Vithor in one of the huddles that he was going to score the game winner. After the game, he came up to me and said in his Portuguese accent 'how did you know?'
"I don't know, sometimes I just have a feeling about some of these things," he said with a smile.
"It was awesome," said Reis, who is from Brazil. "Christian touched me the ball and I took the shot. I hit it good, and I knew it went in because I saw everybody jumping. We've worked hard every day, and coach has done a great job with the guys.
"I don't have words to explain. At 2-0, the guys were down a little bit. We needed more energy. When we made it 2-1, I said 'let's go, let's go!'" he exclaimed.
It was Westlake that seemed to have all the energy in the first half, controlling possession and getting a number of scoring opportunities.
The Demons scored just 3:16 into the match when a throw in resulted in a Moe Mustafa header. But that was the only Westlake goal of the half, much to the chagrin of Demons head coach Mike Besu.
"It's simple. We gave this one away," said Besu, whose team closed out its season at 14-5-0.
"It should have 3-0, 4-0 at halftime," Besu continued. "We had them on the ropes, but we just didn't finish. We were the better team, but when we went up 2-0 we decided to slow down. From there, we gave them too many chances.
"When you have a 2-0 lead and miss too many chances, this happens. We had a one-on-one with the goalie and two headers from three feet away. You've got to put those away," he said.
Westlake did take a 2-0 lead with 31:26 left in regulation when Mustafa advanced the ball up the middle and dished it ahead to fellow senior Brian Sutcliffe. From the left side, Sutcliffe found himself one-on-one with Avon keeper Dylan Morris and scored from 15 yards out.
But less than a minute later, Avon answered right back when Tony Telidis scored off an assist from Michael Smigel. That seemed to ignite the Eagles, and from there the momentum of the match begin to sway in the home team's favor.
"I have to give Westlake a ton of credit," said Avon head coach Chris Dore, whose team continued to celebrate its second district title in the last four years.
"This was the most difficult game we've played all year," he said. "There was a lot of emotion, and a lot of quality. They outplayed us immensely in the first half. I think our guys are still learning to cope with their emotions at the beginning of these games.
"We saw it at the beginning of the Strongsville game, and we saw it for a whole half tonight. At the half, I said a few things to get them settled down and re-motivated. I feel they believed in themselves. They tried to get control of the game, and keep control," he said.
Westlake still had the lead, but a foul early in the 76th minute gave Avon a golden opportunity. The Eagles made it count as senior Will Sharer took the free kick from about 30 yards out and laced it into the lower right hand corner of the goal past a diving Nate Greenberg.
"We had a free kick right outside the top of the box, and I knew there wasn't much time left," Sharer said. "I was trying to put that one in. I struck the ball well and just curled it by the keeper.
"In the second half, we were a different team," Sharer said. "We didn't play that well in the first half. At halftime, our coach talked to us and motivated us to play a lot better in the second half.
"And to get a goal minutes after they scored, that was huge. It was important to score there to keep the game from getting away from us," he added.
Westlake never recovered, with Avon continuing its push offensively.
"That first goal triggered things for us," Dore said.
"When you're reacting, chasing and tentative, that has a lot to do with the type of game you're playing in," he said. "But ultimately, it's about being able to control you emotions and channel them into being focused. I don't think we were completely focused.
"I know we wanted to win, but we weren't quite sure what that meant in the first half. Then when something like that first goal occurs, or a change of momentum, in soccer rhythm and tempo are very important things," he said.
"After we took that 2-0 lead, we gave up a quick goal right away," Besu said. "That changed the momentum right there.
"And then even with five minutes left, we committed a silly foul. If we don't have that, we still win the game. They showed up and picked up their intensity after they scored that first goal.
"That put them right back in the game. My hats off to Avon, and they played a good game. But I'm proud of my kids. We showed up to play today," he added.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this match: