CUYAHOGA FALLS — For most of the second half Tuesday, Cuyahoga Falls boys soccer had rival Stow-Munroe right where it wanted.
The Black Tigers dominated the first 35 minutes of the half, pinning Stow in its own end and taking a 1-0 lead. Falls seemed bound for its first win over Stow in years and its first win ever in the Suburban League National Conference.
With one moment of brilliance, however, Stow snatched a late goal and was able to escape with a draw.
The 1-1 tie at Laybourne Field Tuesday was the National Conference finale for both teams. Falls, which also dropped at 1-0 loss to Massillon Perry Saturday, moved to 4-7-4 on the season and 0-4-3 in the National Conference. Falls’ three draws in the conference were more than they had the previous four years combined.
Stow, which defeated Walsh Jesuit 1-0 Saturday, moved to 7-3-5, 3-2-2 in the National Conference.
Falls coach Eric Ortopan said the game was an example of what the Black Tigers could do.
"If you look at what Falls did tonight, it was complete dominance in the second half," Ortopan said. "The guys have to believe they can play at this level. They certainly can play at this level."
Stow coach Kyle Kosmala admitted his team was not the better one Tuesday.
"Falls outplayed us in the second half," Kosmala said. "Their pressure was constant. They had a spectacular shot on goal.
"Falls just put us on the back foot most of the night. They didn’t give us any room or any space."
The first half was mostly even, though Falls keeper Brady Zeiszler and Stow goalie Sean Flangan each had to make nice saves to keep things level. Falls finished with an 8-4 edge in shots on goal as, Flanagan had six saves with Chris Miller out due to illness.
Ortopan said Falls’ strategy in the second half was simple: Pressure the ball high up the field to deny Stow’s forwards any touches.
The move worked as Falls had the ball in Stow’s end for about 80 percent of the second half.
Despite the pressure, Stow nearly broke though against the run of play in the 54th minute, but Tristen Mattson was denied at close range on a brilliant kick save by Zeiszler.
In the 59th minute, Falls earned a corner kick. The cross deflected off a couple players at the back post, but the ball fell right into the path of Falls forward Jordan Adkins, who smashed the ball into the upper corner of the net.
"It was just rolling out to me," Akins said. "I was in the right place at the right time."
Falls hit the post not long after the goal and seemed to beat Stow to nearly every 50/50 ball in the second half.
"We just need to clean up our passing," Kosmala said.
Falls looked the more likely team to score the second goal — right up until the moment Stow scored in the 76th minute.
Earning a free kick on the right sideline, Mattson took the kick and sent a cross toward the back post. Senior Miles Thomas ran onto the ball and sent an angled shot past Zeiszler to make it 1-1.
"He took it quickly, which is what we needed," Kosmala said. "That ball got behind their backline by about two inches."
Falls had a chance to snatch the win the last 30 seconds of the game, but senior Jack Hiland’s header skimmed over the top of the crossbar.
"It’s frustrating, but it’s patience," Ortopan said of the draw. "They [Falls’ players] want it more than I do."
"It was a great feeling," Akins said. "Honestly, we played better than all game. I just wish we could have got the result. I think we can see them again in the playoffs.
Regarding the playoffs, Stow was given the No. 3 seed and Falls the No. 7 seed in the Division I Solon district tournament draw Sunday. As result, Stow received a first-round bye and will face the winner of the Kent Roosevelt-Akron North game Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.
Falls will open the playoffs by hosting Kenston Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. If victorious, Falls advances to play at Solon Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GHO