STEUBENVILLE - In its first Division II sectional appearance, the Harrison Central boys soccer team blanked Cambridge, 2-0, Monday at Harding Stadium.
Just a few years ago, this feat didn't seem possible.
Soccer wasn't offered at the school until 2012 when it existed as a club team. Last year, the Huskies only played three games in a marginal junior varsity schedule.
WINNERS — Cambrige senior forward Michael Givens dribbles the ball against Harrison Central in a Division II sectional game. Huskies defenders Kyle Dodds and Parnell Sheldon try to disrupt the play. Harrison Central won, 2-0, for its first playoff win in its first season at the varsity level.
-- Matthew Peaslee
"It was hard," said senior David Forrester. "It was a challenge just finding games to play. This year, it was just great knowing that we would be a varsity team. It's meant so much."
Harrison Central is 6-7-1, this year, which "is an accomplishment in itself," Forrester said. "I'll be proud of that forever."
But the Huskies have no intentions of stopping now. They play St. Clairsville in the next round on Wednesday. The Red Devils beat them, 7-0, in the regular season. Last year, Harrison Central tied their JV team.
"It'll be a challenge," said Huskies coach Eric Sheets. "We'll see what happens. St. C is a very good team, a team that we look up to.
"We just want to ride this out as long as we can."
On Monday, Harrison Central rode its defense to the convincing win. Though Cambridge (2-14-1) attempted 17 shots, many were deflected by Huskies defenders.
"Their defense was good," said Cambridge coach Gheorghe Radu. "They did what they're supposed to do. They speared the ball and got it out of play."
Harrison Central goaltender Logan Starr, a freshman, made 12 saves.
"He plays older than a freshman and he's stepped it up so much at the end of the season," Sheets said.
At a recent practice the Huskies worked extensively on their protection of the net off corner kicks.
"We needed to clean it up," Starr said. "We've struggled on goal kicks this year. Coach said to yell out your guy on those plays. That's what helped us get through, marking out their offensive guys."
The Bobcats earned 11 corner kicks in the game, with a series of three in a row during the 18 minute mark of the second half.
"It was hectic and tense," Starr said. "That practice paid off."
Starr was masterful in goal, earning the shutout. But he, too, was quick to credit the strong play of the back line.
"Those guys saved my butt a lot this year," Starr said. "Especially David (Forrester) who is so quick. Kyle (Yant) gets anything on the outside, him and Nathaniel (Hoyt) are great. Parnell (Sheldon) is a brick wall in the middle."
The Huskies forwards aren't shabby, either.
Conner Pecar netted both goals. The first came off an assist from his older brother, Geoff.
"We've combined a lot of times this year on me getting that through ball to him," Geoff said. "It's kind of hard, though. I knew for the first 10 minutes if we kept pressing and trying for those chances over the top, we'd eventually convert one. Give credit to him for getting it."
Conner had to battle for it at the 18:48 mark of the first half. He caught a breakaway off Geoff's bounding pass and charged into Cambridge goaltender Michael Mercer after scoring the goal.
"I volleyed the ball and ran into the goalie," Conner said. "Mine and the goalie's legs hit each other and I really hurt the back of my leg."
He was limping right after scoring and was noticeably hampered by it for the remainder. To make matters worse, the Bobcats' 6-foot-4 senior forward Zach Padden tumbled over him late in the second half, knocking the wind out of the smaller sophomore.
"He played injured the entire second half," Sheets said. "He gave us a real gutsy effort basically playing on one leg."
Fighting through the pain wasn't a problem. Conner scored again at the 5:45 mark of the second half.
"After about 10 minutes adrenaline kicked in and it stopped hurting so bad," Conner said. "It was a great game. After the second goal, it was pure excitement."
While Harrison Central spent this year, and the better part of 2012, simply building a program, the Bobcats were rebuilding in 2013. They graduated 12 seniors and started six underclassmen.
"We had a lot of new kids," said Radu, the third-year head coach. "Hopefully in the next year we'll be back to where we have been."