In Thursday night’s match between Bradley Central and Cleveland, it was the final 10 minutes of play that decided the victor in a heated and historic rivalry game.
Perhaps referring to the matchup as a ‘game’ is putting it too lightly, as both teams spent the majority of the evening fiercely battling for the win.
In the end though, those last 10 minutes fell in favor of the Raiders, who were able to come back and narrowly defeat the Bears 2-1 by the final blow of the whistle.
“This was a great soccer game. The atmosphere was great and both teams played their hearts out and it came right down to the wire. We were fortunate that we were able to stick a couple in the back of the net in the last 10 minutes and come away with the win,” Cleveland head coach John Brose proudly stated. “Hats off to Bradley, they played so hard it was unbelievable. Their keeper made save after save after save there in the second half, and kept them in it.”
Seemingly long gone are the days of the Raiders’ overwhelming conquest of the Bears, who proved they are a team that can go ‘toe-to-toe’ with anyone.
“I think that we have proved that we can trade punches with anyone. We are 7-1-1 and it took them until minute 78 to beat us, and (before that) took them until minute 70 to tie us,” Bradley head coach Tucker Blackmon declared. “We can hang with anybody and there is not one team that scares me, not one. Our players can go toe-to-toe with anybody and I think that’s pretty clear.”
The Cleveland squad quickly discovered it was in for an uphill fight, as it was the Bears who drew first blood.
Having already had numerous drives to the net, Bradley’s Aziz Al Qadi was able to finish up what teammate Jace Boyd had begun, getting a goal past Cleveland’s keeper in the 34th minute.
“My boys fought hard. Aziz El-Qadi put it in and gave them trouble all game. They tripled up Esteban and Aziz was able to play off of it,” Blackmon explained.
Cleveland was unable get anything past the Bradley keeper in the remaining time in the first half, and the Bears were able to go into halftime with a 1-0 lead.
“At halftime we said that they wanted it more than us in the first half, and I think that was apparent,” Brose said. “We were able to come back and match their intensity and physicality in the second half, and that is why we got so many chances.”
The Bears’ one-goal lead held until the 70th minute, when things finally began to fall into place for the Raiders.
After racking up many more shots, the tying goal was the direct result of a set piece.
Brandon Romero sent the ball in, and Anfernee Avila was able to follow through and ‘flick’ one past the keeper.
Nine minutes and another set piece later, Romero kicked in the game-winning goal.
“We got two set-piece goals, which have been kind of rare for us this year. Brandon provided some great service and Anfernee was able to flick in the first goal and then Brandon shot in the second one,” Brose commented.
Despite the heartbreaking, final minute loss, Coach Blackmon was unable to find much fault in his team.
“This game could’ve gone either way. They knocked on the door more than we did, maybe 65/35, but we had many open opportunities to put it in the back of the net, too,” Blackmon stated. “Both of their goals were on set pieces, which speaks volumes to my regulation defense and tells me that we have to work on set-piece defense.”
For Coach Brose, the comeback victory was a much-needed boost for his team.
“I’m proud of my guys and the way that they battled back through some adversity. We didn’t play well on Tuesday and didn’t play real well in the first half here so we were kind of up against (a challenge). Bradley made it very interesting and they have nothing to hang their head about, that’s for sure,” Brose commented.
Bradley keeper Joey White, who was declared by Coach Blackmon as the best player on the field Thursday, faced 13 shots from the Raiders and made 11 “collegiate level” saves.
Cleveland keeper Zach Martin faced four shots on frame, and came away with three saves.
The 2-1 loss should not be cause for too much concern for the Bears according to Blackmon, who wouldn’t mind a rematch with Cleveland in the playoffs.
“There have been so many years that they have crushed us into oblivion that this was almost like a win,” Blackmon explained. “They are a great program, and I think we proved that we are a great program as well. I don’t think anyone wants us in the first round this year.”
BLUE RAIDERS 2, BEARS 1
Halftime score: 1-0 BC. Goals: Aziz El-Qadi (BC); Anfernee Avila, Brandon Romero (C). Assists: Jace Boyd (BC); Romero (C). Record: Cleveland 8-3-2, 3-1 District 5-AAA; Bradley Central 7-1-1, 2-1.