Norwalk holds off Willard to win season opener

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Aug 16, 2019 at 10:45 PM

NORWALK — Things were getting tense.

But thankfully for Norwalk boys soccer coach Jon Kijowski — that angst only stuck around for two-plus minutes.

The Truckers were leading visiting Willard 2-0 for most of Friday’s season opener. But the Crimson Flashes found the back of the net on a goal from the left side about 15 yards out from Jose Lopez with 3:08 left to trim the deficit to 2-1.

Willard still had possession of the ball deep in Norwalk’s end. However, the Truckers were able to clear it out, and Chaz Smith scored with 34 seconds left to seal a 3-1 win at the Norwalk Soccer Complex.

“It was a little tense on the sidelines for those few minutes, but I was glad those guys were able to connect and finish it off,” Kijowski said. “Chaz had a lot of chances late in the game and hammered a few of them over the post — but he was able to put one in the back of the net finally. He worked hard tonight and was up and down the field all game.”

Friday’s opener was part of the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s statewide ‘Friday Night Futbol’ initiative. The opportunity allows games to be played one day earlier than the traditional Saturday start to help make soccer the ‘only game in town’ before high school football begins.

“This is our third year doing it, but never at home,” Kijowski said. “I reached out to the parents to try and make this more of an event, and they were totally on board.

“It’s tough battling fair week, but I still thought we had a pretty good crowd,” he added. “It was exciting and we would love to do it again. It’s a lot of work, but definitely worth the payoff, especially when you get the win.”

It took less than two minutes for the Truckers to start the season with a bang.

Will Gehlhausen found the back of the net just 1:58 in, and Norwalk never trailed again.

Freshman Cam Shoop extended the lead to 2-0 with 19:58 left in the first half. Norwalk goalkeeper Tyler Clark then turned away a Willard free kick with 7:57 left in the half to keep the Flashes off the board.

“Will plays as a lone forward up top and we put him there because he has a lot of pace and he can hold the ball up,” Kijowski said. “We were happy he got us on the board early because I think that got us going.

“I think the longer it would have taken us to score, we may have lagged al little bit — but that goal gave us energy,” he added. “And when Cam got his in, I think we were ready to go.”

In the second half, Willard was able to keep the Truckers from extending the lead until the final minute. Meanwhile, all three shots on goal by the Flashes were in the second half.

“The second half was a little different, they started to put a little more pressure on them, but we still had no connection,” Willard coach Ben Guerra said. “They worked a little bit better compared to the first half, but it’s not what we’re looking for. We lost control of the field.”

Willard goalkeeper Julian Gonzalez took on 14 shots on goal for the game.

“I think Julian did a great job of keeping us in the game,” Guerra said. “He took a lot of action back there, but he was our best player tonight. He did a great job.”

Willard is back in action on Tuesday at Clear Fork in another 7 p.m. game.

Norwalk is off until 7 p.m. next Thursday, where a stern test at Mansfield Madison awaits.

“The preseason was short, so I was a little nervous coming in — but my boys responded,” Kijowski said. “We have a lot of experience coming back, which helps. I think we’re just excited to get the opener out of the way and move on, honestly.”

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