TALLMADGE — Academy Award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio once said, "Every next level of your life will demand a different you."
On Thursday, David Shahata saw something significantly different from his players since he took over as Tallmadge’s head boys soccer coach last month.
Let’s just say he was extremely intrigued.
"What we brought [Thursday], we never brought before," Shahata said.
The host Blue Devils’ bold transformation didn’t set the world on fire when it was all said and done. But their efforts to radically alter their identities could be paramount to what they accomplish the rest of the way.
Playing one of its toughest opponents outside of its formidable conference, the host Tallmadge boys soccer team lost to Austintown Fitch 4-1 at Tallmadge Blue Devils Stadium.
The Blue Devils, who fell to 2-4-2 on the season, dictated the pace in the early stages of the game.
However, the Falcons soon gained possession and controlled matters the rest of the way.
Fitch, which featured bigger, stronger and faster players, pounced on Tallmadge’s mistakes in the first 15 minutes of the match.
Andrew Lescsak sure did.
The dynamic playmaker scored both of his goals in a five-minute stretch to give the Falcons (7-2) a 2-0 lead early in the first half.
Lescsak’s first goal took place after his initial shot hit the crossbar. The opportunistic teenager alertly pursued the free ball when it landed in Tallmadge’s penalty box and converted easily.
His second goal was a bullet from approximately 25 yards away that scorched the upper corner of the net.
"That was definitely the toughest team outside of our league," Shahata said. "We conceded goals off our mistakes, but the boys were able to play."
Marcus DeBaldo made it 3-0 with a little more than five minutes left in the first half. But the Blue Devils got on the board just before the half ended.
Brandon Manda smashed a shot off the top of the net that trickled behind the line to cut the Falcons’ advantage to 3-1 with 21.4 seconds remaining.
Fitch had its way after halftime and Nick Mortaro delivered the backbreaker when he scored from the right side less than three minutes into the second half after receiving a well-placed through ball from Evan Holbrook.
Nevertheless, Tallmadge’s defense, which often found itself under siege by the Falcons’ formidable army of attackers, prevented the rest of Fitch’s missiles from detonating.
"If we needed a safety net, our strategy was ‘Let’s make this a brick wall where they can’t go through and defend with our lives,’" Shahata said. "That was the most heart I’ve seen these boys give for 80 minutes straight."
The Falcons had a lopsided 26-2 advantage in shots on goal and a 10-0 edge in corner kicks. Tallmadge goalkeeper Jamysen Montgomery made 13 saves, including a few from point-blank range.
Several Blue Devils could be found limping around and wincing rather noticeably after the match. Yes, Tallmadge’s soldiers took a rather brutal beating. But their spirits were far from broken.
Such a fact was certainly a pleasing one for their head coach.
"Seven guys have ice wrapped around their legs because they didn’t leave an ounce off the field," Shahata said. "If a team comes with the intensity we brought and you play with the passion they play with and you understand soccer like they understand soccer, the skill gap gets diminished very quickly. And then any game can be yours."
With some formidable opponents lurking in the shadows, a performance like Thursday’s effort will need to be duplicated if Tallmadge wants to pin down an elusive conference win.
Or, as ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle once quipped: "Quality is not an act; it is a habit."
"This is the standard our boys want," Shahata said. "It’s not a standard I’m putting on them. This is their own standard. The captains and the other leaders on the team wouldn’t want it any other way."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.