The Rolla soccer team (4-2) didn't get off to an ideal start when they hosted Jeff City for a match on Wednesday, Sept. 12. Despite an early 3-1 deficit, Rolla charged back to force overtime. Unfortunately, their momentum ran out in the overtime period, as the Jays snuck in a goal for the OT winner 4-3.
Jeff City got out to a quick start, as Ethan Blake scored before the first minute had come off the game clock. Rolla punched back five minutes later when Evan Moore was able to slip past the Jays' defense and score off a pass from Gabe Stanislawski. The scoring flurry continued, as Blake scored his second goal of the night just a minute later, marking the third goal of the game before the 10th minute. Jeff City then added to that lead in the 17th minute on a goal by Angel Garcia, putting Rolla down 3-1 before the midway point in the opening half.
That third goal was a wake up call for Rolla and the Bulldogs turned it on. Rolla dominated the rest of the half with a slew of scoring chances. Jarret Gabriele made several strong runs, but couldn't break through until the 25th minute. Rolla had a free kick near midfield after a hand ball and Carson Arnold, who celebrated his Senior Spotlight in the game, fired a long pass near the net. Gabriele was able to gather it and connect for a goal, cutting the Rolla deficit to 3-2. Jeff City made a couple of runs late in the half, but Josiah Homan stepped up to make some strong plays in the net after a shaky start to keep the game close. When the horn blew for the half, Rolla still trailed 3-2.
The Bulldogs continued their strong play in the second half, controlling the pace of the contest. While Rolla had a few strong looks, they couldn't find the back of the net. Finally in the 60th minute, Rolla got the break they needed. Jeff City was called for a foul in the box and the Bulldogs sent Gabriele in for the free kick. The senior forward buried the shot and the game was locked at three. Rolla had a few strong chances to win the game in regulation, most notably a free kick from just outside the keeper zone that was sent just a bit too high, but couldn't score. The game would head into overtime tied at three.
Three proved to be an unlucky number for Rolla as Blake, who wears the number three for the Jays, stuck the ball from 25 yards out and snuck a shot past Homan just inside the left post for his third goal of the game and the Jeff City victory.
Despite the loss, Rolla head coach Mike Howard was extremely proud of the fight his players had all night long. Jeff City is a very physical team, but the Bulldogs hung with them until the end.
"We can't spot somebody two goals like that in the first nine minutes, especially a team as good as Jeff City. But we learned a lot of things today. We'll watch the video and see what we can fix, but I'm very proud of our effort," said coach Howard. "It would've been easy when we're down 3-1 that quick to pack it in and just say it's not our day, but these kids competed the whole time.
"It's disappointing to lose, but at the same time, we got better today," continued coach Howard. "That's what I always say. We go out and play these teams for a reason. We're trying to make our players better for the postseason."
Rolla's midfield and forwards had to deal with a lot of banging bodies all night long, but they managed to spark a strong offensive night despite the physical play of Jeff City. On top of that, several players dealt with cramps after playing a full game the night before, but they kept going back in because they had a strong desire to win. Coach Howard was impressed by that passion for their team.
"It's one of the more physical games I've seen in a while and our kids stepped up to the challenge," said the Rolla head coach. "We competed. A lot of times in the past few years, we haven't done that physically like we did tonight. I think that was a real positive."
Gabriele had another great game for Rolla with two goals, bringing his season total to 11 through just six games. Coach Howard thinks this might have been his best game yet.
"I think it's by far the best game Jarret has played," said the Bulldog coach. "He's involved, he's moving off the ball, he's making runs flag and diagonal and checking back and he's winning balls defensively for us."
After a tough loss, Rolla will have a few days to recover and get ready to bounce back with another Ozark Conference game at home against West Plains on Tuesday, Sept. 18.