The Columbus East boys soccer team rode the wind to a 1-0 lead in its rivalry game on Saturday against Columbus North, then had to keep from getting blown away in the second half.
Although the game at the Richard Wigh Soccer Complex ended in a 1-1 tie, the Olympians had to feel fortunate to escape without a loss.
The Bull Dogs, who were dominated most of the first half, charged offensively in the final 40 minutes and had almost all the scoring chances.
If not for some terrific goalkeeping by Columbus East goalkeeper J.B. Baxter, North might have been celebrating.
With 28 minutes remaining in the contest, North senior Brayton Thornburg crushed a free kick that was certain to find the net. Baxter, though, made a dive to the right, deflecting the ball off to the side of the goal in a remarkable show of quickness.
Thornburg wasn’t finished. As the game progressed into the final minutes, the Bull Dogs continued to turn up the heat. East hadn’t made many defensive mistakes all night, but it made one with 2:37 remaining, allowing Thornburg an open shot only 20 yards from the goal. His laser of a shot went just to the right of the goal and the Columbus East fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.
In all fairness, it was North that was playing defensively in the opening half with the wind in East’s favor. Every long kick down the field, if not headed or blocked, would take a huge forward bounce if it hit the ground. Meanwhile, the kicks against the wind would stand straight up and fall harmlessly.
That helped East pick up the only goal of the first half.
At the 25:16 mark, East junior Jakob Branum lined up for a free kick at midfield. He crushed the ball on a line just to his left of the goal. The ball, full of topspin, took one bounce, split North’s defenders and found its way to East senior Drew Herron who booted it past a diving North keeper Ty Bentham.
North had opened the game aggressively on offense and controlled the ball the opening five minutes. But with the wind, East soon took over and dominated the rest of the half.
Thornburg had one of North’s few scoring chances in the opening half, but his shot sailed wide.
When the two teams returned for the second half, it was obvious the Olympians were going to have to withstand an offensive barrage.
By the 43:24 mark, North had knotted the score at 1-1. North forward Jerrett Stark knocked a rebound home after Thornburg crushed a corner kick into the goal mouth and teammate Ed Meyer took a shot that was stopped by Baxter.
The rebound, however, came to Stark.
From that point, it was a matter if Baxter could hold up. He smothered one ball before Meyer could get to it and later kept knocking away Thornburg’s shots.
Columbus East junior Ian Pittman did boot a high, arching shot that Bentham had to leap to knock away at the 50:00 mark, but Baxter had to do the same at the other end on a Thornburg shot.
East (4-1-1) had to leave the Wigh Complex feeling that it might be able to snap a sectional title drought that has lasted since 2005. North (1-1-1), meanwhile, looked like a team that is just beginning to come together and should be at a much higher level come playoff time.