Morgan Proffitt, the Columbus North star with the damaged right knee, could only watch during Saturday’s sectional final match against Columbus East as Emma Dwenger and Elizabeth James waged a one-on-one battle of wills.
Dwenger, the Olympians’ goal-scorer deluxe, and James, the Bull Dogs’ eraser in goal, faced off time-after-time with the championship on the line.
But with 76 minutes expired and the game still knotted at 0-0, it was finally Proffitt’s turn to shine.
She didn’t disappoint, stealing the ball in front of East’s goal and poking a shot into the net with 3:27 remaining that led to North’s 2-0 championship victory.
A devastated East squad, which dominated possession for two-thirds of the game and finished 16-2-1, emotionally sank.
With the damage already done, North’s Kenadie Carlson added an insurance goal with only 50 seconds remaining when she got behind an East defense that was pressing to tie the game.
After congratulating the Olympians on a terrific season, North’s girls charged on the field and started bouncing around as one in celebration. Considering that they had missed Proffitt, who tore the ACL in her right knee this summer, for all but three games of the season, it was an unlikely ending.
“This is unbelievable,” Proffitt said, moments after clutching the sectional championship trophy. “I was just happy to be on the field with these girls. I can’t believe this. Words can’t describe it.”
Proffitt, whose knee still swells, had to sit out the first half since North coach Derek Stewart knew he could only use her for 10 to 15 minutes of play. She was inserted for the first time with 32.30 remaining.
By that time, though, James had made four saves on Dwenger bullets, and East’s energy seemed to be deflating. Proffitt’s presence gave North a lift and the Bull Dogs, who had no scoring opportunities in the first half, were building some momentum. With Proffitt playing up front, the pressure was on East.
Eventually, Proffitt forced a mistake and capitalized.
James, who had held the Bull Dogs (8-7-3) together all season, was a rock in goal. “It was pretty tough,” James said of facing Dwenger and the East offense. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking that we were going to penalty kicks.
“But (Dwenger) is such a great player. All her shots were legitimate.”
Eighteen minutes into the game, James smothered a Dwenger shot from point-blank range, and then seconds later she made another save on Dwenger, who took a crisp shot from left of the goal on a sharp angle.
Six minutes into the second half, James again stopped a Dwenger drive. Then about nine minutes later, Dwenger made a quick stab at the ball with her right foot from directly in front of the goal, the ball headed toward the right corner of the net. James came out of nowhere to make a sliding, kick save. “That was probably my best save,” James said. “It was a reaction.”
“Elizabeth saved us, no doubt,” Proffitt said.
It was a hard ending for Dwenger, one of the state’s most prolific goal scorers. “She is such a dynamic player,” said North coach Derek Stewart. “And I have such respect for (East). They move the ball so well.”
But North’s defense hung tough under constant pressure. The Bull Dogs’ Emma Risley did a great job keeping East from putting together a more consistent attack.”We just wanted to play our style, which is defensive shape,” Stewart said. “We made sure we were marked up against their great players. Emma did such a great job.”
East coach Ilya Schwartzman had little to say after the shocking end to one of his team’s most successful seasons. “It’s just about finishing,” Schwartzman said softly. “We didn’t finish.”
But like everyone present, Schwartzman admired the work of James. “She is an excellent goalie,” he said. “She made some tremendous saves.”
As the Olympians walked off sadly, the Bull Dogs continued their celebration. Both Proffitt and James are seniors who could have been playing their final high school games. Now they will play in the Jennings County Regional, beginning Wednesday.
And even though Proffitt missed almost the entire season, a sectional championship made up for the disappointment.
“This tops it all off,” she said.