By Gary R. Rasberry
FINDLAY -- It appeared, for the second straight match, that Celina would be able to hold an opponent scoreless for 110 minutes and force a shootout in Division I sectional play.
For 23 shots through 80 minutes of regulation and 15 minutes of the first sudden victory overtime, the Bulldogs turned away everything the Findlay Trojans threw -- or kicked or headed as the case may be -- at them.
The 24th try looked to be another miss as it was deflected.
And right at Trojan Jon Bowman.
Bowman lined up the rebound and put the ball in the goal in the 98th minute of action, allowing Findlay to get the 1-0 win and end the Bulldogs' stellar season in the rain at Graham Memorial Stadium in Findlay. The Trojans (8-6-3), hosts of the sectional, play Perrysburg on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the district final. Perrysburg routed Lima Senior 11-1 in Thursday's late game.
Celina, which saw a seven-match shutout streak end, completes its season at 13-3-2 and as the Western Buckeye League champions.
"They're a good team," said Celina coach Bruce Strine. "They beat us 4-0 earlier in the year.
"They're quick, very quick. They play a strong schedule. We were hoping to put one in somehow."
Celina's defense, stellar all season, came up with another solid match on Thursday. Findlay was able to break through and pepper the Celina goal with shots (the Trojans took seven tries in the first half), but what didn't go wide or over the top of the goal went into the gloves of keeper Matt Leugers, who made six saves in the first half alone.
The Trojans played a physical defense that kept Celina from getting shots on the goal. That and the rainy weather made for a slick pitch, which made quick stops and turns for shots difficult. Celina's best chance to score in the first half came with a minute left when Chris Post got inside and fired away, but the shot went wide as both teams went into the break scoreless.
Findlay continued to pepper shots at Leugers and the Bulldogs in the second half, attempting 10 shots in the second 40 minutes of action. Leugers had to make three saves in the increasingly poor weather.
"The grass is wet and the ball is wet. It was hard for them as well to turn on the ball," said Strine. "We did get a couple of shots. Chris' just went wide. He said six inches."
"It looked like it was a tough night to finish it off," said Findlay coach Albert Laux. "There were several factors that played into the way. The field was kind of slick and that made it more difficult to shoot the ball. It took some time to adjust to the fact that Celina kept the defense back and the long ball didn't work for us. I told them at halftime the only way to break the defense is have them commit."
In the last two minutes, the Bulldogs tried to make their only shot of the half be the best one. Celina was in the box when Findlay keeper Todd Geise could not get back into position. Kyle White was left open with a wide-open net with 1:20 left, but the wet field helped make White's shot go wide as he fell down in frustration.
Findlay could not get a breakaway as the whistle sounded the end of 80 minutes of action.
"That one at the end of the game, the keeper was out of position," said Strine. "That one would have ended the game."
Findlay continued its pressure on the Celina goal in the first 15-minute overtime. Leugers made three saves and several other Findlay shots went wide.
In the second overtime, Celina tried to strike early as Brian Dorsten booted one that was just wide of the net.
Geise booted the goal kick and Findlay went on the attack again. Chase Pickering went down the far sideline and cut in, kicking the ball into the box and into the territory where Bowman was and Bowman fired a kick past Leugers to end the match.
"That was a heckuva run down here," Strine said of Findlay's finisher. "I would rather lose this way than a shootout. No one likes to win or lose on a shootout."
"The defense got tired," said Strine. "We got tired at the end. We gave all we had. That's all we had and we left it all here on the field. I'm pleased. I'm very pleased with the guys. This is a team that was picked to finished at the bottom of the WBL and went undefeated in the WBL.
"No sour grapes here. I'm happy for Findlay. I'm just very pleased with our play. ... We lose just three senior starters. We expect to be back here next year. We're going to work hard in the offseason and we'll see what happens."