The Emmaus Eagles continued their season on Saturday as they hosted the Sabercats of Maranatha Baptist University (Watertown, WI). The match was held at Clarke University due to significant rain during the week, and was followed up by an all alumni match during which longtime professor and former Emmaus Coach, Dr. Jack Fish, was honored by having his name attached to the Emmaus home field.
The match with Maranatha kicked off with both sides looking to settle in. Emmaus took an early one goal lead in the 9th minute on an exceptional team goal. The Emmaus defense and midfield held possession for more than a dozen passes before Tim Barton (#8) sent a perfect ball up the right sideline to forward Wakilongo Ebake (#17). Ebake then crossed the ball to midfielder Anthony Flores (#10) who cut to his left and fired his short home from just outside the 18.
"That's what we're talking about, boys," yelled Emmaus coach Dan Block. The Eagles had been focusing on patient, smart attacking, and that play was a perfect example of what they had been practicing.
Emmaus's second goal came in the 37th minute when Carson McBain (#11) found Ebake on a ball over the top that was chipped over the charging Sabercat keeper, Andrew Taylor. The teams went into the half with Emmaus leading by two goals and having held a 9-2 shot advantage.
"It was a great first half," said Coach Brown, "but I warned them that Coach Jeff Pill was an incredible coach who would make some adjustments at the half, and it proved true."
The Sabercats did make some adjustments, including mixing up their midfield and playing wider, but Emmaus looked like it could absorb the added pressure. Maranatha was determined, however, and defender Zeke Steuerwald (#12) stepped up in the middle and found enough space to launch a perfect 25 yard shot into side netting to bring the Sabercats within one in the 56th minute.
Just three minutes later, the Sabercats evened the match on a controversial call. Maranatha forward Tyler Nelson (#7) dribbled forward, only to see a long touch make its way to the foot of Emmaus defender Jake Taylor (#12), who cleanly poked the ball away before Nelson ran straight into him and fell down. Taylor was whistled for a foul just outside the 18 yard box, and defender Nathan Campbell (#8) stepped up and buried the free kick into the upper 90.
"That one hurts," said Coach Brown. "Not to take away from the shot, but that was clearly a blown call and it was a new ballgame when Maranatha tied up the score. Live and learn, the officials won't get it right every time, and sometimes it impacts the game more than others."
The tied match seemed to wake up the Eagles, who pushed to restore their lead. It looked like they might do just that in the 68th minute when Ebake found space and fired a shot at goal. Goalkeeper Andrew Taylor got his hand on the ball, just barely touching it to the crossbar for a brilliant save. The score remained tied.
In the 70th minute, the Emmaus defense made its first major error of the match. Two Emmaus defenders when to clear the same ball, and as a result misfired the clearance. The ball fell straight to Tyler Nelson (#7), who took one touch and fired a shot into the bottom right corner to give the Sabercats their first lead of the game. Five minutes later, an eerily similar play occurred when a misfired clearance landed at the feet of John Zockoll, who, like Nelson, fired in a shot from range that went straight into the corner of the net. In just 24 minutes, the Sabercats had managed to score 4 goals on what would be their only 4 shots of the entire half. "It was like they just couldn't miss. Our guys were hustling, playing smart, and if anything were slightly too aggressive on their clearances. It is rare to see a team shoot that well (4 goals on 6 total shots on the day), but sometimes that is just the way it goes.
With 19 minutes to play, the Eagles regrouped. Feeling almost robbed by the incredible shooting of the Sabercats, the Eagles stuck with the game plan. Just three minutes after Maranatha's fourth goal, Emmaus launched an attack up the sideline and patiently worked the ball around before Neal Johnson (#4) found Mason McCarl (#7) in the box, where McCarl scrapped the ball in from close range.
The final 15 minutes saw the Eagle defense hold strong as the team continued to press the attack, looking for the equalizer. In the final seconds, the Eagles sent in a long throw in that was bounced around in the Sabercat box. McCarl managed to get off a quick shot, but keeper Taylor was in the right place as the ball deflected off of his shoulder as time expired.
Coach Brown has a lot to say after the match: "On the one hand, the loss was heart-breaking. We outshot them 19-6, and their shots happened to be gems. But on the other hand, what a game! Our boys fought! They played smart. They scored goals. They played good defense. They played for each other. They had fun! That was one of the most exciting games I have ever been a part of. Our guys kept their heads, didn't quit, and gave themselves a fighting chance. Our region is going to be like that this year. Just about every team is capable of beating another, and I expect plenty more to be very tight. I would have loved to have beaten Maranatha for once, but I honestly can't say enough about how proud I am of the way our guys played today. It just wasn't ultimately our day to win… if that was the last game I ever coached, I would be able to retire satisfied knowing the guys left it all on the field and honored the Lord in the process. I love this team!"
The Eagles will be back in action on Thursday as they host Faith Baptist Bible College (Ankeny, Iowa). The two teams tied earlier this week after 110 minutes, and Emmaus is excited for the rematch. Kickoff is set for 4:00 PM.