The Blade/Jeremy Wadsworth
COLUMBUS — The Southview boys soccer team left the field to wild cheers, their white-clad fans that filled two sections of Crew Stadium as loud as ever late Saturday night.
It did not matter the Cougars lost 2-0 to Powell Olentangy Liberty in the Division I state finals.
One sign above all seemed to capture the traveling party’s sentiments.
“Thank you,” read the poster.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to come this far, and we did,” said Daniel Blackmar, the Cougars’ leading scorer. “It’s been a heck of a run.”
The storybook march did not have a storybook conclusion.
Liberty (22-1) controlled much of the night — the state’s second-ranked team fired more than three times as many shots as Southview — while the Cougars (17-4-2) endured multiple doses of hard luck. One of Liberty’s two first-half scores came on an own goal and Southview had a goal wiped off the board because of a foul in the 71st minute.
The finality hit hard, with Southview coach Chad Cody calling the night “bittersweet.” But he also knew when time lends perspective, this will be remembered as the greatest — and most improbable — seasons in school history.
“I have mixed emotions,” Cody said. “Obviously, we’re disappointed we didn’t win the game, but we’re No. 2 in the state representing Northwest Ohio. I’m just proud of the team.”
Players said the Cougars’ postseason run felt magical. They were unranked and had lost three of their last five regular-season games — including a 9-3 loss to Northern Lakes League champion Anthony Wayne.
A team of 19 seniors then decided it would not lose. Even without the injured Blackmar for part of the playoffs, Southview stunned Anthony Wayne 2-1 in a regional semifinal, beat Westlake 3-1 to claim its first regional championship, and crashed the state finals when Jared Yoshino scored with just over three minutes left in the second overtime of a 1-0 victory over Aurora.
In the end, only one team proved too much. Liberty was in the state championship game for the second straight year, ranked 19th in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and had outscored opponents 27-4 in its first six postseason victories.
Liberty was quicker and ultimately better. The Patriots set up shop in Southview territory from the start, and rarely left, outshooting the Cougars 16-5.
The Patriots scored on an own goal in the eighth minute. Jared Robinson headed a cross off the near goalpost, which then ricocheted off of Cougars defender Samer Sarsour and back into the net.
“An unlucky bounce,” Sarsour said. “It hit the post, and I wasn’t expecting it.”
Robinson’s next point-blank shot also found the net, this time without the benefit of a freak misdirection. A short cross from inside the box found Robinson, who punched the goal past diving goalie Eric Breeden in the 36th minute.
“I think in the first half we were a little nervous,” said Breeden, who had four saves. “We had never been here before so it’s a new experience. They were here last year so they’re used to it already. The second half, we really tried to respond.”
Southview did. Though Liberty still largely controlled possession, the Cougars made a late charge and looked to get on the board in the 71st minute. A booming and well-placed free kick from just inside midfield led to a rapid-fire succession of shots — off the crossbar, off the goalie and finally off the leg of Chris Ellis into the net. But as Southview celebrated, the official waved the goal off, ruling Yoshino had interfered with the goalie.
“They called that we got into the goalie on it,” Cody said. “That was the call.”
He added: “[The Patriots] converted their opportunities that they had. The bounces went their way. We had our opportunities. The bounces just didn’t go our way when it was time to score. Congratulations to Olentangy. They played well."
And, judging by the ovation from the runner-up’s cheering section, so had Southview.
“We’ve been without our leading goal scorer for most of the tournament," Cody said. "Everyone pulled through together, everyone on the field, everyone on the bench. It was kind of magical. But we would have liked to have win this game."
Contact David Briggs at: email@example.com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.