ELIDA – The laser-like shot appeared to be headed just under the crossbar and into the back of the net.
But Elida junior goalkeeper Caleb Jones was there for the rejection.
Jones leaped and tipped the ball over the bar with two minutes to go to preserve Elida’s 1-0 boys soccer victory over Kenton on Thursday.
“To me, it looked like a cross because there were two runners going for it,” Jones said. “I read it and got a hand on it. I wasn’t taking any chances on it.’’
The victory puts Elida (12-1 overall, 7-1 Western Buckeye League, 21 points) back in first place in the WBL with one game to play.
Kenton slips into second at 12-1-1 (6-1-1 WBL, 19 points.
Elida midfielder Jake Taylor scored the match’s only goal on a header from 12-yards out with 36:42 left in the first half. The shot was set up off a Riley Bartels’ free kick from 40-yards out.
“Riley usually sends in a pretty good ball, so I figured if I could get on the end of it,” Taylor said. “If I put it on target, you never know what happens.’’
Elida had the momentum early and outshot Kenton 7-2 in the first half.
“We played a really good 40 minutes and got an early goal,” Elida coach Tom Thomas said.
Elida outshot Kenton 8-5, but Kenton’s best chance came with 2:05 to go.
A Kenton player ripped a shot from the right corner of the 18-yard box. It appeared to be a cross, with two Kenton players charging to the net and looking to get a head on the ball.
Only the shot kept climbing, went over the heads of the players in the box and looked like it would hit the net just below the bar.
That’s when Jones leaped, stretched out his hand and tipped the ball over the crossbar for the dramatic save.
“I leaped as high as I could,” Jones said. “I was super excited. I haven’t had that many saves this year.’’
Jones finished with three saves.
Kenton goalkeeper Luke Woodruff made four saves.
The Elida midfield played well the entire way with Draek Littler, who moved back from forward, Noah Davis, Cody Gay, Taylor and Corbin Fingerle generating the attack.
Littler gave the team energy as an offensive/defensive midfielder on the wing.
The Elida defense formed a wall in the back, with sweeper Bartels getting 13 stops.
Also back on the defensive line were Max Parker, Cade Parker and Keegan Layman.
“We’ve done really well in the back,” Thomas said. “We’re organized (back there) and Caleb made a great save.’’
It was Layman who followed Kenton forward Hayden Hicks all over the field and held him in check.
The play was more than a little physical in the second half and the yellow cards started to fly.
“This was by far the most physical game we played all year,” Taylor said. “They are a great team. We fought hard. They fought hard. We just got the one that got us on top.’’
Two Kenton players and one Kenton assistant coach were given yellow cards for various transgressions.
No Elida players were carded.
“In our pregame, our number one point was keep your composure. I’m very proud of the boy the way they reacted,’’ Thomas said. “We played level-headed.’’
In Elida’s WBL finale, the Bulldogs meet Ottawa-Glandorf next Thursday at Elida. With an Elida victory, the Bulldogs would win the WBL outright.
“We need another performance like this (next Thursday),” Taylor said.
The Lima News sports department can be reached at 567-242-0451.