WHEELING - Hoping to celebrate Senior Night with a stunning upset victory over Steubenville, Wheeling Central used a fluke goal just 10 minutes into the game and a staunch defensive effort to hold onto the lead for most of the afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Maroon Knights, all Big Red needed was a shot in the arm from their own senior, John Paul Duff, to take control late.
Duff, Steubenville's starting keeper, changed jerseys and came out of net with 15 minutes to play, scoring a goal, helping on another and giving the visitors the momentum they needed, all in a three-minute span, before returning to his normal position as Big Red escaped with a harder-than-expected 2-1 victory over Central at Sonneborn Field 4 at Wheeling Park Monday.
"John Paul is a very good athlete, but we should never have put ourselves in a position for that move to have to be made," a relieved Head Coach Greg Bowers mentioned. "But it has been the same for us all season, just a lack of finishing."
That was never more evident than the opening 10 minutes of play as Big Red (9-4-2) controlled the tempo, had six chances on corner kicks and put all kinds of pressure on the Wheeling Central (4-8) net. However, somehow the Maroon Knights managed to take a 1-0 lead.
Moving the ball deep into Steubenville's side of the field for the first time in the contest, a Big Red player booted a rocket straight ahead that he hoped might make it to the other end of the field, but instead it bounced off of the Knights' Thomas Chappelear and straight back into the net past a shocked Duff for the first goal of the contest.
While Big Red continued to have chances, actually finishing the day with a whopping 14 corner kicks, the Wheeling Central defense held strong, playing very well in and near the box.
With just around 15 minutes to play, however, Bowers made the move, bringing Bryan Brown into net and putting Duff in on the offensive end. Just three minutes later the move paid dividends.
Duff's blast from 15 yards away with just 12 minutes to play knotted the count at 1-1 as the senior dandy and his teammates celebrated. Steubenville then finally took advantage of a corner kick with freshman Marc Porter finding himself at the right place at the right time.
Standing on the side of the post, Porter had the ball roll his way on a continuation from the corner and calmly tapped it in with nine minutes to go to give Big Red the goal they had been looking for all day, the one that put them ahead by a 2-1 count.
With his job in the field done, Duff came out, put his keeper gear back on and returned to net to finish the day.
"They are a very good team, but their goalie is a key player for them and he really made a difference when he came into the game," Central Head Coach Brian Roth admitted. "We got out ahead of them early and held it for the majority of the game, but they got a big boost when they pulled him out of net."
While Bowers agreed that Duff brought adrenaline and enthusiasm to his team, he also felt that Central had that early with its goal.
"You could see the difference when John Paul came onto the field for us, but you could also see the difference in their players when they got the early goal to give them a 1-0 lead," Bowers added. "We just have to find a way to be hungrier around the net, and we are just not quite there yet.
"I believe we played great defense and moved well up and down the field the entire game, it was just the lack of touch at the end."
Even with the loss, Roth was proud of his team and how they executed.
"The kids played our game plan," he mentioned. "We wanted to win all of the available balls and minimize their opportunities and I thought we did that about as well as we could the first half and most of the second. I honestly could not be more proud of these guys, they played their hearts out.
"It all came down to a couple of lapses at the end and Steubenville was able to capitalize."