By GREG MENGELT
The scene was familiar. A favored, seemingly more talented Jeffersonville team was down at the half against a Providence team that came to play.
Unlike Friday’s stunning 35-13 loss to Providence on the football field, the Red Devils boys’ soccer team fought back to overcome a 2-0 halftime deficit in a 3-2 triumph at Jeffersonville on Saturday.
Devils senior Leonard Kwitonda, who attended Friday’s Jeff-Providence football game, said he never considered the possibility that the result would be the same.
“I wasn’t worried,” he said. “At halftime, I knew we were going to come back in the second half. We still had another 40 minutes. We knew were the better team.”
“I was just waiting for our guys to step up,” Jeff coach Carson Webb said.
Austin Ali, who had the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over New Albany on Tuesday, got Jeff on the board just seven minutes into the second half. Ali got to an Erick Martinez pass between two Providence defenders and beat Providence keeper Jeff Wiles with a header to cut the Pioneer lead in half.
Five minutes later, a Martinez pass found the foot of Kwitonda. The pass was so well placed that all Kwitonda had to do was tap it in to tie the contest at 2-apiece with 28:33 remaining.
“We try to do those 1-2 combinations. They’re beneficial for us,” Webb said. “When we put it together, we are a very dangerous team. When we trust our teammates and distribute the ball like we did in the second half, it’s not uncommon for us to roll off three, four goals in a half.”
The Red Devils took the lead for good at the 23:07 mark — their third goal in just over 10 minutes — on an unusual play. As a player from each team raced for a loose ball, the ball ricocheted off of Jeff junior Jeanpaul Rojas. It traveled about 30 yards and speedster Isaiah Salazar out-raced all Providence defenders and put the ball to the left of Wiles for the Devils’ first lead of the contest.
“They’ve got some speed on the wings and they brought it to us,” Providence coach Brandon Rogers said of Jeff’s second-half performance.
In the first half, it took the Red Devils over 25 minutes to get their first shot on goal. In the second half, they had 11 shots, six of which were on goal, and 10 legitimate scoring chances. The Devils also had two second-half goals disallowed.
“We just came out in the second half and played our game and focused,” Red Devil senior Alex Duckworth said. “The second half we came out and controlled [the game] and showed how dominant of a team [we can be].”
“That happens a lot in rivalry games. People’s emotions get the bets of them,” Webb said. “We were emotional and weren’t playing our game in the first half. That was obvious. Sometimes it takes getting scored on to get us fired up. That’s what happened. We were able to regroup at halftime and respond. Kudos to my boys for stepping up and taking over in the second half.”
As often happens in rivalry games, emotions ran hot early in the contest.
Less than seven minutes in to the game, Providence senior Tommy Davis and Jeffersonville sophomore Ben Mann got tangled up on the edge of the Jeffersonville box.
After he felt he was tackled hard, Mann knocked down Davis from behind. Both players came up pushing and shoving and a pair of red cards were issued. Both players were ejected, and following the game, the lead official said further suspensions are likely.
“Fights in a game, the best word for that is stupid,” Webb said. “We don’t need that. That doesn’t do us any good and both teams lost a player. It took away from what both teams were trying to do. That’s not soccer. That’s not good.
“It’s not something we support. We will deal with it and Providence will deal with it in their way, and we’ll move on. That’s about all I can say at this point. I’m disappointed that it happened.”
After a first 20 minutes that saw a total of three shots and just one on goal, Providence took advantage of its first good opportunity to score when freshman Connor VanHook corralled a rebound and was knocked down from behind in the box for a penalty kick.
Senior Evan Hollkamp volunteered to take the penalty kick and put it over Arredondo’s head into the top of the net for a 1-0 Pioneer lead.
“Last game [against Holy Cross on Thursday], we had a PK and I stepped up and made it. I felt like I was the player to step up and take it,” Hollkamp said. “I gladly accept stepping up and helping my team.”
Just over seven minutes later, Providence junior Logan Rauck received a pass from Brent Hesse, beat Arredondo and tapped the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead with 12:05 remaining in the opening half.
Despite falling short after holding a 2-0 lead, Rogers was happy to see the strides his team has made in order to play a strong Jeff team within a single goal.
“We’ve definitely come a long way,” Rogers said. “We’ve made adjustments throughout the season. My seniors have definitely stepped up and we are building for a long postseason run. We are not building toward a Jeff High School game. And we’re making steps in that direction. That’s a good Jeff team. We’re not going to see anyone like that until the semistate.”
“I think our team has come a long way from the beginning of the season,” Hollkamp said. “We lost a lot [to graduation] from last year, but all of our players have really stepped up and brought what they can to the table. That’s really made a difference.
“I definitely think [the loss is] disappointing, but I think it’s just going to motivate us even more to work harder to make a better postseason run.”
Rogers said the Pioneers could have changed strategies with a 2-0 halftime lead, but he felt it was more important to remain themselves in the second half.
“The thing is we wanted to come out and still be aggressive because that’s what gave us the 2-0 lead,” he said. “You can chalk that up to a coaching mistake. We could have packed it in [defensively], but it could have been the same result. We wanted to come out and still be aggressive, but unfortunately, they brought everything they could at us.”
Jeffersonville, who are now 12-2-2 overall and 4-0-1 in Hoosier Hills Conference play, will continue its pursuit of its second conference title in three years when it hosts Floyd Central on Wednesday and goes to Columbus East next Saturday.
Providence hosts Rock Creek — a potential sectional opponent — in its regular-season finale on Tuesday.
JEFFERSONVILLE 3, PROVIDENCE 2
Providence 2 0—0
Jeffersonville 0 3—3
P — Evan Hollkamp (penalty kick), 19:18.
P — Logan Rauck (Brent Hesse), 12:05.
J — Austin Ali (Erick Martinez), 33:24.
J — Leonard Kwitonda (Martinez), 28:33.
J — Isaiah Salazar (Jeanpaul Rojas), 23:07.
Shots: Providence 6; Jeffersonville 17.
Shots on goal: Providence 4; Jeffersonville 9.
Scoring chances: Providence 6; Jeffersonville 15.
Saves: Providence — Jeff Wiles 5, Brenden Tucker 1; Jeffersonville — Luis Arredondo 2.
Fouls: Providence 7; Jeffersonville 3.
Corners: Providence 1; Jeffersonville 3.
Cards: Providence — Tommy Davis (red); Jeffersonville — Ben Mann (red).