Waterloo’s stars came to play Saturday.
Senior Ben Huels had a goal and an assist and senior Philip Most scored had goals, both of them in overtime, and an assist as the Bulldogs outlasted the Columbia Eagles 3-1 in the championship game of the Class 2A Columbia Regional.
Most’s first goal, which came on feed from all-stater Huels, was a breakaway with 1:20 to play in the first of two overtimes, and it put the Bulldogs ahead 2-1.
In the second overtime, Most converted again on a breakaway, this time on a feed from junior Justin Kohler, to give Waterloo its two-goal lead with 7:54 remaining.
Columbia junior goalie Jon Kuebler, who shined in tough situations for most of the game, didn’t have a chance to make a save on any of the Bulldogs’ goals.
“It was fantastic having our fans come out and support us,” said Most, who also hit the crossbar with a shot in the second half. “We usually don’t get that many fans. But tonight, they came out watch the Columbia-Waterloo rivalry, which is always a good one. It was a really close game, and it came down to who wanted it more. I think we wanted it more.”
Waterloo (17-3-3), which won the Class 2A state title last year, will meet Carbondale in the semifinals of the Waterloo Sectional at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Carbondale outscored Anna-Jonesboro 5-4 in penalty kicks to secure a 2-1 victory Saturday in the championship game of the Olney Regional.
In the other semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Marion will play Jacksonville, which eliminated Highland 2-1 in two overtimes to win the Jacksonville Regional on Saturday.
Waterloo coach Chad Holden credited the strong performances of Huels and Most, but acknowledged a tough showing by the Bulldogs’ defense, too, which allowed only a first-half goal by Eagles senior Connor Jackson that tied the game at 1.
“Defensively, we didn’t give Columbia too many shots,” Holden said. “I know they scored on that set piece, but most of their shots were either on a set piece or a throw-in. But during the flow of the game, there wasn’t really many shots.
“Philip, though, he definitely deserved it because he had some golden opportunities that were on frame, and either the goalie came up with it or he hit the crossbar. I think that thing’s still shaking down there. We told him, ‘You’re going to score in this game. You’re playing too well for it not to happen. And for him to score two in overtime was awesome.”
Columbia coach Jason Mathenia said his players were well aware of the damage that could be done Huels and Most. But knowing it and doing something about it are two different things.
“One of the things we talked about in the pregame and at halftime is we have to be aware of Huels playing the balls into Most,” Mathenia said. “Huels is one heck of a player. There’s no doubt about that. He won, I bet, almost every ball in the midfield. Unfortunately for us, he’s dangerous on the flicks that he puts in and the slotted passes he puts in.”
Eagles’ season ends
Columbia finished 16-3-3 despite losing 14 seniors from last season.
Mathenia was proud of what his team accomplished in what many anticipated would be a rebuilding season. Columbia didn’t allow a goal until its 13th game.
“They’ve come a long way,” Mathenia said. “It’s pure effort and hard work on their part. They definitely overachieved in my mind.”
The Eagles fell behind 1-0 less than two minutes into the game when Huels’ shot, on a pass from Most, hit the right post and went into the net.
Moments later, the Eagles began to operate with effectiveness and determination in their offensive end. Finally, Jackson converted on a header in a crowd from about 6 yards in front on a pass from junior Sam Spivey, knotting the game at 1 at 22:45.
“When Connor got that one off the throw-in, we felt very confident at that point. I thought we played very well the last 15, 20 minutes of the first half,” Mathenia said. “They started bringing it back to us the second half and had a lot of opportunities. Kuebler came up huge several times. (But) we couldn’t get out of our half. It’s a very talented Waterloo team.”
Waterloo freshman goalkeeper Sam Ward remained under pressure, but was up to the challenge, over the last 11 minutes. He jumped and pinned one shot against the crossbar, and when it fell the Eagles were able to clear. In the 31st minute, Ward went to his knees to collect a low, hard shot by sophomore Riley Hubler.