OTTUMWA — Both the Albia and Ottumwa boys soccer teams begin postseason play on Monday. They’ll both go in with .500 regular-season records.
How the Blue Demons and Bulldogs enter the postseason is something different altogether.
Albia used a sudden two-goal rally in the final 16 minutes on Thursday night to spoil Ottumwa’s senior night celebration. Jordan Crall followed teammate Mason Cox’s game-tying goal with a game-winner less then six minutes later to lift the Blue Demons to a 2-1 win that stunned the home fans at Eric Wertheim Field.
Both head coaches were left with entirely different feelings about their team after Thursday’s regular-season finale.
“The guys kept doing what they were supposed to do and gave themselves a couple of late opportunities,” Albia head coach Gary Gravert said after his team’s fourth straight win. “I couldn’t be prouder of my guys.”
“When you have a situation where we beat that team 4-0 with our second string earlier this year, I would think our starting 11 would be able to finish the game,” Ottumwa coach Aaron Rose said after watching his team suffer a third straight defeat. “It had just the opposite effect. It backfired on us.”
For most of the night, it appeared the lone Albia defensive breakdown of the opening half would be the decisive moment of the match. Danton Irelan, one of Ottumwa’s 11 seniors, broke loose in the 30th minute of the match and beat Albia goalie Gabe Gravert for the only goal of the first 64 minutes.
Despite that breakdown, Coach Gravert remained optimistic about his team’s chances.
“Cody Wynn and Cody McCarty did a great job in the middle and our forwards came back and helped more then they have all season,” Gravert said. “We just kept going at the goal and going at it until we finally scored.”
The game-changing moment just minutes after Rose put in his entire starting line-up with hopes of the Bulldogs padding their one-goal edge. Instead, Albia turned the tables as Cox scored on a header in traffic to tie the match with less then 16 minutes left.
“Coach calls those hard-nosed goals,” Albia senior Jordan Crall said. “We work on those every day in practice. It’s just basically a big cluster-up on corner kicks and we have to find ways to score.”
Crall took advantage of another hectic play in front of the Ottumwa net. After making an initial save, Kevin Gonzalez lost the ball and suffered an injury when players collided with the Bulldog goalie.
With Gonzalez down, Crall took a pass from Anthony Tuttle and put in the game’s decisive goal in the 70th minute.
“It was just an unlucky play. It was a case of the ball bouncing away from our goalie and going right to the other team,” Rose said of the play. “Nothing good came out of that for us.”
“We’ve worked on trying to get as many in the box as possible and put the ball into the net,” Crall said of his game winner. “We’ve beaten some really good teams recently. We’re excited to get into the postseason.”
After falling as far down as 4-8 after losing five out of six matches, the 8-8 Blue Demons will roll into the postseason seeking a third straight trip to the Class 1A state tournament. That journey begins at home as Albia hosts Williamsburg Monday in a 1A district first-round contest.
“We’ve got so many guys that have that experience of being a part of state tournament runs the last two years,” Gravert said. “That makes me feel pretty good about our team heading into Monday’s match.”
Ottumwa, once 8-4, has will have little time to recover after falling to 10-10 entering 3A substate play on Monday. The Bulldogs head to Des Moines East, who won in Ottumwa last Monday 4-3, needing to figure out how to turn around their recent stretch of misfortune.
“That’s a tough question to answer,” Rose said. “I feel like, as a coach, I’ve done everything I can do to put us in the best position to succeed. It’s up to the players now to dig down and find a way to turn things around.”
“I think we’re a tired team, but we have so many seniors that don’t want their season to end. We’ll see which team shows up on Monday.”
ALBIA 2, OTTUMWA 1
Albia 0 2 — 2
Ott. 1 0 — 1
Ottumwa — Danton Irelan goal, 29:22.
Albia — Mason Cox goal (Andy Henderson assist), 64:12.
Albia — Jordan Crall goal (Anthony Tuttle assist), 69:43.
Albia: Total Shots — 10 (Cody Wynn 5). Total Saves — 12 (Gabe Gravert 12). Total Fouls — 9 (Yellow card - Tanner Kellogg).
Ottumwa: Total Shots — 13 (Jonas Conrady 3, Denny Guido 3). Total Saves — 8 (Kevin Gonzalez 5). Total Fouls — 10 (Yello card - Cesar Botello).