CENTENARY, Ohio — Before the Blue Devils could take visiting Fairland’s best shot, they had to dish out a couple of body blows of their own.
In an extremely physical and even chippy contest all throughout, especially in the second half, Gallia Academy scored two goals within seven minutes and 33 seconds of each other — and held off the hard-charging Dragons 2-1 in an Ohio Valley Conference soccer match on Thursday night at Gallia Academy’s Lester Field.
The Blue Devils, in the first season of OVC soccer competition, are now 2-0-0 — having trounced Chesapeake 6-1 in the league opener 10 days ago.
Gallia Academy is now 2-2-0 overall, having won its last two.
The Dragons fell to 2-3-1 — and 1-2-0 in the OVC.
While the Blue Devils dictated most of the action, playing the majority of the opening half in their offensive third, it wasn’t until the final 7:38 that Gallia Academy amounted the two goals it so desperately sought.
Then, after the Dragons sliced the deficit in half to 2-1 with 14 minutes and 45 seconds remaining, the Blue Devils’ defense ratcheted up — as Fairland mounted some late rushes in search for the equalizer.
However, the Dragons’ last-best scoring chance — a direct kick by Trenton Baumgard — sailed high over the net with only a minute and 40 seconds to play.
Gallia Academy outshot Fairland 14-6, including a whopping 10-1 in the first half.
Gallia Academy senior goalkeeper Caden Wildt, playing in his first match since suffering a concussion against Alexander in the season opener, was a calming influence in net — and made three saves.
“Relieving pressure and playing the ball back to the goalkeeper is a huge thing that we pride ourselves on. We did that well at times tonight,” said GAHS assistant coach Jon Dodson. “It can always be better, but we did well enough tonight to get away with it. And Caden (Wildt) coming back first game in goal, it was like he didn’t miss a beat. He stepped up when he needed to, and he does well in goal for us.”
And what Wildt does well in goal, senior striker Isaiah Lester does just as well with speed.
Lester, who entered Thursday night’s affair with nine goals, landed his 10th — just in the nick of time before the first-half horn sounded.
With the Blue Devils clinging to a 1-0 lead, Pedro Carrascal cleared a ball through the midfield for Lester, who gained possession in stride and outraced the Dragon defenders.
Lester was one-on-one with Fairland keeper Alex Ward, as Lester beat him to the lower-left 90 with exactly 4.8 seconds showing.
At the time, it arguably was the Devils’ dagger in the Dragons.
“The second goal was Isaiah (Lester) with the breakaway, just him showing what he can do with his speed. He’s a speed-demon and that’s what he does best. Those two goals right before the half were very lifting,” said Dodson. “We needed those then, it got the energy swinging our way.”
The first finally came with 7:38 on the clock — on Gallia Academy’s fifth of 10 corner kicks on the entire night.
Jacob Ratliff took the corner, and passed it beautifully to the middle and to Miguel Velasco, who one-timed the orb past Ward on the lower-left.
Ward was credited with five saves, most of which were in the first half.
But much of Thursday was about the Blue Devils finally getting that initial tally.
“We struggled getting that first goal. It seemed like we kept hitting a brick wall before we got to that first goal. That was a brilliant finish off the volley by Miguel (Velasco),” said Dodson.
As it turned out, the Blue Devils did need both goals.
As the physical nature of the second half forced several stoppages in play due to on-pitch injuries, the Dragons finally got a goal with 14:45 remaining.
The Blue Devils were whistled for an obstruction call, and Fairland found the net on the immediate possession, as Jared Wilkes scored off a Baumgard assist.
Gallia Academy earned three yellow cards and the Dragons one in the second half, as Fairland’s Tyler Webb was wide left with a good attempt at the 10:10 mark.
At the eight-minute juncture, Webb went wide right off penetration and a pass from Wilkes, as Baumgard’s missed direct kick almost six minutes later essentially sealed the win for the Blue and White.
Gallia Academy was set to host Ohio Valley Christian School on Saturday, and travels to face Rock Hill in the OVC on Monday.
Speaking of the OVC, the Devils do lead the league — as early as it still is.
“Being 2-0 (in OVC), we’re headed in the right direction,” said Dodson.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106