BY PATRICK KELLEY firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — OAKWOOD – With a goal from captain Mason Jett in the 68th minute, the Hoopeston Area high school soccer team defeated Oakwood high school 1-0 on Thursday night at Oakwood middle school.
Senior midfielder and captain Elijah Yates had his back to the goal when he collected a pass from Jett. With Yates’ back still to the goal, Jett maneuvered to his teammate’s right and controlled Yates’ backwards pass, booting the ball to the top left corner of the goal.
“It was a pretty fun little move,” Jett said regarding the assist from Yates, whom he has played soccer with since grade school. “It was the smart play too. I passed to him, I called for the drop and it worked.”
The goal came from one of Hoopeston Area’s numerous possessions in Oakwood territory. While the Comets started the match with the ball, it was the Cornjerkers who controlled it for the majority of the game.
During the scoreless first half, Oakwood relied on booting the ball into a 14 mile-per-hour headwind to advance past midfield, while Hoopeston led their charges with a short-pass, ground campaign.
“That’s [controlling possession] Hoopeston’s game,” Oakwood head coach Eric Fenton said about the team, whom he feels is the best in the area. “We’re trying to develop that possession. Against other teams we might be able to do it. Against a team like that, it’s tough. … We did our best to play it out of the back but most of the time we were stuck being forced to clear the ball.”
The battle for possession was, at times, a battle in the most literal sense. The game saw 20 fouls and one yellow card, which was issued to Yates at the 66th minute for dissention after Yates disputed a foul call.
Of the 20 fouls, many resulted in players finding the ground. At one point, Oakwood junior defenseman Kerrick Sweetlan found himself out of breath and on the playing surface when looking to grab a goal kick.
“It was a very physical game,” Sweetland said. “I got the wind knocked out of me on that one [play]. It hurt.”
But Hoopeston Area’s leaders don’t shy away from their aggressive team identity – it is how they had to play to survive last year. Despite the move to Class 1A after the split from Bismarck-Henning, the Cornjerkers have seen plenty of 2A competition this year with wins over Mahomet-Seymour and Champaign Centennial with their single loss coming at the hands of Danville high.
“2A soccer … is a lot more physical than 1A,” Hoopeston head coach John Klaber said. “We, I think, are a physical team. We always try to stay within the rules and do what needs to be done. But we try to be dominate on the ball, which involves having to be a little bit more physical.”
The physicality of the game manifested itself in words toward the end of the competition. During another hotly contested free ball along the fan-lined sideline, Jett was looking for the referee to issue another foul, when a fan exchanged words with the Cornjerker captain.
“I went for the ball and I knocked a kid over, and he yelled the ‘F’ word really loud right next to the referee,” Jett said. “I’m appealing to the ref ‘how could he not have heard that’ and I’m talking to the ref. I’m assuming one of his friends or his parent or his father said something and I said ‘I wasn’t talking to you.’”
But fouls, wind and fans aside, Jett was content with the win, but not with how his team played.
“We just came off an 8-1 win against Georgetown, with the one goal against us being a little fluke,” Jett said. “But, if we play like we should, every game … can be an 8-0 game.”
Oakwood drops to 2-4-3 for the season, while Hoopeston Area goes to 5-1-0.