Defense dominates in overtime thriller

Dave Faries

The most nagging word in sports is “if.”

If Dominic McKeown’s curling free kick midway through the first half dipped another inch, the Bulldogs would have taken a 1-0 lead. But after clearing Hannibal’s wall, the ball shuttered against the crossbar.

If Haden Frazier’s shot with 5:48 left in overtime remained on its line, Mexico has a thrilling winner in the books. However, after slicing through two defenders and finding a precious sliver of space, his drive from 15 yards out sailed high.

But there was nothing iffy about the Bulldogs’ defensive play on Thursday night.

For 99 minutes and 37 seconds, Mexico’s back line and goalkeeper Brock Smythe dealt with every blow Hannibal delivered through the first half, the second half and two overtime periods. They put on a display of defensive prowess matched only by the visitors – except Hannibal managed to keep Bulldog strikers in check for 100 minutes.
“I can’t be mad about it,” Smythe said of Mexico’s 1-0 loss to the Pirates. “It was a well played game on both sides.”

With the whistle just 23 seconds away, Hannabal’s Caleb Young emerged from red jerseys and white jersey swirling around the ball just outside the six yard box and drove a shot into the top right corner of the net.

“That shot was pretty amazing,” Bulldogs head coach Bill Gleeson said. He had anticipated a tough match. Mexico beat the Pirates twice this year, and an old sports adage warns that three victories over the same team comes with an added degree of difficulty.

The Bulldogs appeared determined not to let Hannibal gain an advantage. The game can best be described in snippets: Hunter Woolfolk throwing his body in front of a laser shot. Smythe making a diving save. Brayden Dunn cut off the speedy Pirates midfielder DaeShon Glasgow before he could close on goal.

“We just had really good communication today,” Smythe observed, praising the back four. “They did most of the work.”

The back line often created opportunities for attack. In the 19th minute of the first half, Logan Carter pushed the ball through a sea of Pirates and crossed midfield. The effort eventually earned a Mexico corner, but no goal. In the second overtime period, Dunn headed a Hannibal pass into the path of Mason Lower to start a promising counterattack.
“You can’t win them all, but nobody messed up,” Dunn pointed out. “We just let one go in.”

And that is what makes that word “if” so troubling. It was a tense, back and forth drama – choppy at times due to small fouls and a quick referee’s whistle, but full of opportunities on both ends. If only the defense would have been more porous.

“It was one step away,” Carter said. “If one had gone in for us, it [the game] would have broken open.”


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