An injury to a significant player early in a match can be enough to unravel most teams, especially in the postseason.
South Knox isn't most teams.
Despite an early injury to leading scorer Tristen Dubbs and an early deficit, the No. 8 Spartans evened the match by halftime. Avery Gerkin's second-half penalty kick was the difference in a 2-1 boys soccer victory over rival Rivet in the semifinals of the Class A South Knox Sectional Wednesday.
The Spartans (17-0-1) remained unblemished, and they advance to the sectional title game at 3 p.m. Saturday to face another rival, North Knox, in an effort to win their third sectional title in four years. The Warriors were impressive in a 3-0 win over White River Valley in Wednesday's opener.
The South Knox-Rivet match was mostly even, though Dubbs going down with an injury 1:02 in the match was a setback. He didn't return, and Spartans coach Tim Goodwin called him a game-time decision Saturday.
“To see two teams compete like they did, it's a shame someone had to lose,” Goodwin said. “Losing Tristen in the first minutes of the game was a huge blow, and then we got down 1-0. But we kept focus, got back into it at the end of the half, and we played our hearts out the rest of the game.
“I've talked before about having the perfect effort, and we got that.”
Rivet made things even more complicated for the unbeaten hosts when Wesley Murawski drew a foul in the box at the 23:43 mark. Referees conferred, and the call stood, allowing Murawksi to give the Patriots a 1-0 lead as he pushed it past keeper Trevor Malott.
South Knox had several chances to get the equalizer, but it finally came with 1:51 left in the first half. Evan Miller sent a quality cross into the box, and Thomas provided the header to tie it, 1-1.
Both teams had early opportunities to take the lead in the second half. Cedric Schleiss put a shot on goal in the 42nd minute that Malott stopped, and Collin Myers nipped the post on a clean look several minutes later. In the 50th minute, Myers came close a second time, as his shot off a corner kick deflected off defender Trevon Taylor and forced Rivet keeper Aaron Wyatt to make a diving stop.
South Knox finally broke through in the 57th minute when Thomas got by the Patriots defense, and when sweeper Austin Finch sprinted to catch up, he knocked Thomas off balance in the box and a foul was called. Gerkin stepped up for the spot and sent it past a diving Wyatt for a 2-1 margin.
Both coaches agreed South Knox's defense was the difference.
“The guys that score get the credit, but everybody out there does so many little things that make this a team of 11 out there,” Goodwin said. “They're just fun to coach, and I couldn't have asked for a better effort out of our defensive guys (Chase Donaldson, Tristian Wirth and Dakota Candler).
“Kylar Simmons stepped up for us when Tristen went down. We told him to go chase the ball and be a pest, and that's what he did. Trevor is huge for us every game, and he's a coach on the field. He had some big saves, and it's hard to put into words how much he's developed.”
“We came to play, and we played hard. South Knox had good control of the ball, and moved it well on offense. The final was 2-1, but they showed that they deserved it. They're not undefeated for nothing. We fell short, but we put up a good fight and represented our school well,” Rivet coach Thierry Schleiss said. “We couldn't move against their defense. We had a few chances, but we couldn't create much. Their defense was solid, and Aaron did a good job keeping us in it with some saves.
“I feel sorry for Tristen. When you lose your best goal scorer in the first minute, it's a lot to overcome. Give them credit. The better team won. This wasn't luck. But I hope (Dubbs is) all right and that he can participate in the next step.”
Scoring chances were limited the rest of the way. Schleiss penetrated on the left side of the box in the 59th minute and found an open Noah Donovan up top, but Donovan's shot sailed over. In the final 10 minutes, Malott made a great save to tip a Murawski attempt over the crossbar, and Schleiss also had a free kick from about 35 yards out just miss. The Spartans also had a handful of opportunities, but ultimately a South Knox corner kick in the final minute ran off enough time to prevent Rivet from getting one last look.
It was the final match for Rivet seniors Schleiss, Wyatt, Murawski, Taylor, Donovan, Austin Finch and Owen Dobbs.
“This is tough. I've developed these (seniors) since middle school, and we had a few join in high school, like Austin Finch,” Schleiss said. “This is a great group of kids, and it's tough that somebody had to lose. These are high quality seniors, and we're going to miss them greatly.”