If you were there, you know, and if you weren’t you missed out. That’s just about all that can be said for the soccer game that took place on Tuesday evening, Sept. 14, between the Hillsboro Hiltoppers and the Carlinville Cavaliers.
In a rematch of the title game of the Kick-off Classic on Route 66, a tilt where the Cavies got the best of the Toppers 1-0, this game, too, was a contest that had absolutely everything a soccer fan, or even a sports fan could possibly want.
Back and forth play, near misses, physicality, momentum swings and huge moments were all capped off with a score late in the final frame. The only difference between that game and this one was the winner as a late goal on the part of senior Gavin Matoush gave the orange and black the victory, and what a victory it was. As stated above, if you weren’t there, you missed out.
With the Cavaliers coming into the game with a perfect 9-0 record on the season as well as a 2-0 record in South Central Conference play and the Toppers sporting a less robust 6-4 record overall but an identical 2-0 record in the SCC, players from both sides didn’t need to be reminded of the ramifications and the importance the game carried with it.
This game in mid-September very much could decide the conference title already. If not, it very much could at least decide a portion of it. Throw in the fact that it was senior night for the Cavies, and it wasn’t hard to see that this one had a little different feel to it before anyone even kicked a ball.
When play started, Hillsboro would go with a little different lineup in terms of formation than it did when they first faced off against Carlinville and this seemed to open up the offensive attack a little bit more for the orange and black.
In addition, senior midfielder Ethan Lentz, who missed the first match due to injury, was back in the lineup on Tuesday, allowing an even different look for the Toppers.
The visitors would nearly get on the board early in the first as a great play at midfield on the part of junior Will Christian allowed Hillsboro to spread the field and move the ball back and forth. Christian would find his fellow junior Adison Pollard up the left side of the field and Pollard would create a little space of his own and put the shot on net. Pollard’s shot would sail just over the crossbar though and out of play ending the drive.
The Cavaliers would answer back with an offensive attack of their own two minutes later as the focal points of their offense, seniors Levi Yudinsky and Treiton Park, would connect on a run up the right side resulting in a Hillsboro clear out the end line and a Carlinville corner kick.
On the ensuing kick, the Topper backline anchored by seniors Devin Speiser and Ayden Brewer and sophomore Deklan Riggs, with fellow sophomore Hunter Payne making his first varsity start in the back, were able to collect the cross in and send it back up the other way.
Park would send a laser on frame on the next Cavalier possession but sophomore keeper Mitchell Lowe was there on the doorstep to make the save and send it back up the other way.
It would be absolute madness for the next few minutes as both sides would trade runs and physical play only to end up with a defensive stop and then a run back up the other way.
With 15:20 left in the first, the Toppers would have their best chance on net.
Matoush, who has been incredible with his throw-ins all season long, would connect with Christian off a throw-in deep in the Carlinville zone and Christian would get the shot off. Sophomore keeper Will Meyer would be there for the Cavies, however, and make the save ending the drive.
With 11:30 left in the half, Hillsboro would be on the doorstep again, this time as Brewer, making a great run from the back, used a nice move to create space up the left side before knocking a pass up to Christian.
Christian would then center the ball in front and the ball would roll past all four of the Carlinville defenders and onto the foot of sophomore midfielder Logan Murray. Murray would be a little surprised by the Cavalier miscue and the ball would roll off his foot as he put his shot sailed just wide.
With nine minutes left in the half, the Cavies would have their best chance yet as a set play deep in the Hillsboro end allowed Park to find Yudinsky off a throw in and Yudinsky would redirect the throw with his head and right into the hands of Lowe.
On the ensuing play, Matoush would send a cross in front to senior sweeper Matt Page, who would redirect a head ball of his own, but Page would get just under the cross and send it up and over the crossbar.
Murray would have another look on net in the final 2:55 of the first and Lentz would add an absolute missile with 1:45 left that nearly slipped through Meyer’s hands, but that’s as close as either side would get and the score remained tied 0-0 a the break.
When play resumed in the second, the Toppers seemed to catch a bit of a spark offensively as Christian continued to insert himself into the play more and more. This would nearly pay dividends just minutes into the half as he rocked a cross just off the outside of the goal and then followed it up with another shot off the crossbar.
At the other end, the Cavaliers were strong as well and this was never more evident than with 15:55 left in the match when Park put a perfect shot on the ground but Lowe would be there for an absolutely incredible diving save to get one hand on the ball to keep it 0-0.
Lowe’s save seemed to spark even more life into the Toppers and they mounted yet another attack. This time Riggs used his body to turn a Cavalier forward and make a run up the right side, resulting in the Carlinville defenders scrambling to send it out the end line.
Hillsboro wouldn’t connect on the first corner but a miscue on the part of the Cavaliers nearly put the ball into their own net before it crossed over the endline.
The second corner would be much more dangerous as Lentz placed a perfect cross in and Christian would come flying in to direct the ball in with his head. He would get just under it again and send it up and over.
Finally, with 5:58 left, Hillsboro would be rewarded for their hard work and persistence as freshman midfielder Mitchell Cunningham made a terrific heads up play to poke the ball upfield to an awaiting Matoush. From there, Matoush was off to the races and would place a perfect ground ball through the arms of Meyer and into the back of the net, giving the Toppers the 1-0 lead.
From there, Hillsboro would double down on defense and keep the Cavies honest, fighting away two bigs runs as Lowe would seal the deal late coming up with a huge save off a Carlinville free kick with less than 1:30 left.
The victory would improve the Toppers to 7-4 on the season and an all-important 3-0 in SCC play.
Topper coach Jason Burke was elated with the outcome. “This was an incredible, incredible battle between two incredible teams,” Burke said. “It was an epic game the first time we played them and they got us and this was a continuance of that first one where the first team to take advantage of a little bit of space was going to be the team who won. They did just that last time and we did that this time. I couldn’t be more happy for our guys. They kept battling and scratching and clawing and for them to come away with this one is so big for them. I can’t be more proud of them.”
The Toppers return to the pitch this afternoon, Sept. 16, as they host the Greenville Comets at 4:15 p.m. The time has been changed from the typical 4:30 start because of a referee shortage. As well, today is senior night as they will honor their seniors at halftime of the varsity match.
Sept. 14 at Carlinville
Hillsboro 0 1 - 1
Carlinville 0 0 - 0
Goals: Hillsboro - Gavin Matoush 1. Goalkeepers: Hillsboro - Mitchell Lowe; Carlinville - Will Meyer.
Records: Hillsboro (7-4, 3-0); Carlinville (9-1, 2-1).