Aurora boys soccer grinds out win over gritty Tallmadge
AURORA — Every team experiences new issues with every new season.
For Aurora and Tallmadge boys soccer, the issues have been greater than usual this summer.
Both teams had their offseasons truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic, then had to come back quickly after both schools initially thought they wouldn't be playing until October.
When the squads met Sept. 1 at Aurora's Veterans Stadium, though, any lack of sharpness was forgotten in a spirited game.
After conceding the first goal, Aurora clawed its way to 3-2 win over Tallmadge, which fought the Greenmen every step of the way.
Aurora improved to 2-1, 1-0 in the Suburban League American Conference, while Tallmadge opened its season at 0-1.
For Aurora, one the biggest challenges is getting settled under new head coach Ryan Conner. Although his team struggled in the offensive third at times, Conner liked what he saw from the Greenmen.
"I felt really good about the way we played," Conner said. "I was not happy about giving up two goals, so we need to clean that up. We're still figuring it out. We didn't have any scrimmages, so this is only our third game."
Meanwhile, Tallmadge coach David Shahata was ecstatic with his team's effort.
"All a coach can ask players for is there best. I have no doubt that we gave that tonight," Shahata said. "I have a big smile on my face. This team learned we can go anywhere and compete with anyone tonight."
Conner echoed Shahata's feelings toward the Blue Devils.
"Give Tallmadge credit. Those guys played a phenomenal game," Conner said. "They covered for each other. They played very disciplined all night."
From the start, the contest wasa case of Aurora's possession game vs. Tallmadge's pressure defense and counterattacking. While Aurora had an edge early, it was the Blue Devils who struck first.
In the ninth minute, Tallmadge pushed forward and got a throw in from the far side. Will Hudak's throw bounced into the box and Tallmadge senior Christian McCauley was able to get his leg on the ball and volley it home on the near post.
Tallmadge's lead didn't last, however, as a bit of bad fortune struck in the 10th minute.
Aurora right winger James Miller sent a dangerous ball in from the sideline, which Tallmadge goaltender Jameyson Montgomery barely got his hand on.
The ball took a couple of deflections before bouncing off a Tallmadge defender for an own goal to make it 1-1.
For the rest of the fist half, Aurora pushed the action, only to be thwarted by Tallmadge's defense. Montgomery did a nice job marshaling his area, cutting out numerous crosses and through balls.
One telling statistic, Aurora finished with a 20-9 edge in shots, but things were even at 6-6 in terms of shots on goal.
Montgomery finished with four saves, while Aurora goalie Ethan Hoff had three. Aurora's defense also cleared a shot off the goal line.
In the second half, Aurora kept pushing and Tallmadge kept hanging on, despite some major attrition.
"We lost five guys to [leg] cramps after halftime and those were major players," Shahata said. "It was just injury after injury for us, but we kept going. The next man kept stepping up."
However, Aurora finally broke Tallmadge's resolved in the 63rd minute.
A long ball from Aurora senior Mason Bizjak glanced off the head of a Tallmadge defender and into the path of Aurora's Zach Geier.
Geier sprinted toward goal, where he chipped the ball over a charging Montgomery to make it 2-1.
Bizjak got his second assist of the night in the 73rd minute via his specialty: The long throw-in.
Bizjak sent a bullet throw from the left sideline all the way to the back post, where Miller headed it home to make it 3-1.
"That throw-in is a real weapon," Conner said. "We have to do a better job getting on the end of it."
Just when it looked like Aurora would stroll to victory, Hudak pounced on a defensive miscue in the 78th minute. The Blue Devil forward sent a low shot into the corner of the net, making it 3-2 with just over two minutes left.
Aurora avoided any further late drama, however, by keeping the ball in Tallmadge's end for the duration of the game.
Aurora is set to travel to Mayfield Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. before hosting Lake Catholic Sept. 5 at 4 p.m. which will be Greenmen's senior night.
Meanwhile, Tallmadge will next see action Sept. 10 vs. Canton McKinley at 7 p.m.