TALLMADGE — They’ve been humbled rather rudely by two of their powerhouse rivals.
But you don’t have to pity the Blue Devils, though.
Everything is quite peachy for the Tallmadge boys soccer team thus far.
"I feel that our team culture this year is the best it has ever been," Blue Devils’ senior co-captain Eric Solomon said. "The system we play has so much more potential even though we lost two rough games. It gives us a learning experience."
That’s especially true when they have to play some of the best teams in the state every year.
Aurora, which reached the Division II state semifinals in 2017, picked apart Tallmadge’s supposedly impenetrable version of the Israeli West Bank barrier. As a result, the Greenmen coasted to a convincing 5-1 win Tuesday at Tallmadge Blue Devils Stadium.
It took Aurora nearly 23 minutes to overthrow Tallmadge’s wall of defenders, who protected their goal as if it was Fort Knox.
It finally happened, thanks to a critical boo-boo by the Blue Devils’ armed guards.
Using a high-risk, high-reward approach of madly sprinting forward if a white and green jersey went astray, Tallmadge’s defense left itself helpless when the Greenmen suppressed its bold trapping tactics.
As a result, Mason Bizjak’s daring escape proved successful, thanks to a well-timed and well-placed through ball by Bryson Pozniak.
Once Bizjak got the ball, only Jamysen Montgomery stood in front of him. The Blue Devils’ goalkeeper made 10 courageous saves on the evening. However, Montgomery was basically the equivalent of George Armstrong Custer in The Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Bizjak easily won the noticeably unfair fight to give Aurora a 1-0 lead.
The Greenmen sprung another unexpected leak in Tallmadge’s purportedly indestructible dam when a lively ball struck one too many blue and gold jerseys.
After the ball was kicked deep from their own end, the Blue Devils saw it suddenly travel backward due to some ill-timed friendly fire.
That’s because the ball struck a Tallmadge player and then ricocheted into the Blue Devils’ net.
Stuff happens, though, right? Tallmadge will dutifully take its lumps and move forward.
"Together as a team, it takes a special group of guys to come out of something like that and not be at each other’s throats," junior co-captain Andrew Krukemeyer said. "We still agree we’re going to come to practice, work hard. It sucks that we lost both games, but I think it’s a positive thing to see that we’re still together as a family.".
A little more than six minutes after halftime ended, Aurora’s Hugo Krondorfer got into the scoring act moments after a corner kick.
William Guzy found himself all alone on a breakaway to make it 4-0 nearly 20 minutes later.
All was not totally lost for the home team, though. The Blue Devils didn’t flee from their breathtaking new castle without any merchandise.
Thanks to a gorgeous backward pass from Krukemeyer, senior co-captain Suhaib Mahameed had some real estate in what was previously a condemned house.
With only Greenmen goalie Ethan Hoff in his line of sight, Mahameed easily scored from point-blank range in the 72nd minute.
"We had some nice connection plays," Mahameed said. "Andrew didn’t even look. He just played it to me.
"The way we’re playing is going to work eventually. It’s just a matter of how soon we’re going to get there. We just have to come out here every day and have the mentality that we’re going to come out here and grow. We want to make a statement."
Alas, Tallmadge didn’t have much time to celebrate its lone experience in la-la land.
That’s because Aurora struck one last time when Pozniak scored off a feed from Zach Geier with less than 90 seconds remaining.
When the statistics were tallied up, the Greenmen proved rather convincingly which squad was in charge.
Aurora had a 12-2 advantage in shots on goal and an 8-0 edge in corner kicks. Hoff needed to make just two saves as his highly potent, playmaking teammates kept the ball miles away from the Greenmen goalkeeper’s restricted zone.
Thanks to the win, Aurora improved to 5-1 in 2019. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, dropped to 1-2 overall and 0-2 in the conference. Tallmadge’s other conference loss was a 6-0 defeat to Revere, last year’s Division II state runner-up.
By the way, the American Conference also features Copley, a perennial Division I state powerhouse.
Despite the extremely challenging circumstances, the Blue Devils plan to stick together.
And they’re going to enjoy each other’s company as much as possible.
"Not too many teams can come out of two tough games like that and go as a family," Mahameed said. "We’ve established a culture here that I don’t think many other schools established. It just feels good to be out here as a family playing soccer."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.