By Pedro Velazco
Tipton — TIPTON — Crawfordsville’s boys soccer team has made its way with defense this season. The Athenians are a tight, dogged defensive unit, all across the field.
Almost all across the field.
The Athenians scored a 1-0 victory over Northwestern Thursday night in the opening round of the Class A Tipton Regional with a great defensive performance and one moment of offensive magic just four minutes before halftime.
Crawfordsville’s Jose Cortez fed a nice ball from central midfield up to slicing forward Ricky Vega, who peeled clear of his defender and poked a goal past charging Northwestern goalie Nathan Daanen for the game’s only score.
“[Vega] came up to me, he’s actually a sub, he doesn’t play much, he says ‘do I have to play defense?’” Crawfordsville coach Dan Durrwatcher said, noting that he’s still trying to instill a defensive mindset into all the players. “I said ‘Ricky, you score a goal, you don’t have to do it, you don’t have to do anything else.’ He said ‘OK.’”
The Athenians made that goal stand up, ending Northwestern’s season.
“They’ve had quite a few shutout games and I can see why,” NW coach Jim Wagner said. “They have big, fast defenders, their goalie made a couple of really nice saves where I thought we’d finally cracked the scoring column. We were dribbling in and getting the ball where we wanted it to be, but we couldn’t get that next pass in for the shot.
“That was what was frustrating the guys. We took a couple of bad shots at times because we got frustrated. Credit to [Crawfordsville] for making it really difficult to get those clean shots.”
Crawfordsville (13-6) has only given up eight goals all season and has now posted 13 shutouts. The Athenians expertly prevented Northwestern from passing into attackers with space to shoot, got in passing lanes and forced the Tigers to try and dribble in.
And the Athenians pulled off the victory with a shorthanded defense, a new game plan, and a lot of attention to Northwestern forward Robert Olsen.
“I got a call [Thursday] morning from our starting sweeper [Brandon Beck], who’s all-conference, probably one of our best players. He said ‘I’ve got mono, I’m done for the year,’” Durrwatcher said. “[Thursday] morning, I’m sitting here thinking ‘oh man, how are we going to do this?’ So we switched things around, but our main plan of attack was to find 11 [Olsen] because we’ve heard a lot about 11.
“We watched him last Saturday [in the Tipton Sectional final]. We saw how he dominated the play. We just said man mark him the entire game. That was our plan of attack, just sticking on 11 and making sure we covered him. That’s where we went for starters.”
Crawfordsville didn’t just blanket Olsen, it threw a cover over the entirety of the Northwestern attack that severely limited the Purple Tigers’ chances.
Olsen had two good looks at goal in the first half, hitting a post, and chipping just wide when a bouncing long ball eluded the Crawfordsville defense, but Northwestern didn’t force Crawfordsvlle goalie Jake Zurawski into any saves in the first half. Northwestern got busier in the second half, but still had almost no unobstructed views at goal. Zurawski, came up big when called on.
He had five saves after halftime, including two difficult stops. In the 60th minute he stonewalled Jacob Wagner at the near post after Wagner beat a couple defenders on the left endline and took his chances from a tight angle. Then in the 77th minute, Olsen wheeled around with a defender on him and looped a quick turn shot that Zurawski tipped over the bar to preserve the lead.
“That’s what one of the seniors said, he said ‘we’ve had a great season. We’ve won almost all of our games, and it was one of those where we just couldn’t get that goal to even it up,’” Jim Wagner said. “We did a really good job defending ourselves. They didn’t have that many looks at the goal. We had the one error there that gave them that goal. At halftime, I told [the Tigers] ‘we’re going to get there.’ I thought we were playing a little better brand of soccer. I thought we were going to get at least a couple of goals in the second half. We got some better shots but we didn’t get it in there.”
Daanan had six saves for the Tigers, who finished the season 15-3.
“They’re proud of their effort and I’m proud of their effort, because we didn’t give up,” Jim Wagner said. “We were down fighting with just a minute or two to go, got the ball in front of their goal, got a shot at it, but it didn’t go in. I’m very proud of them.”