Gators steal a point from Lions on last minute goal and draw 2-2

Auburn Mountainview led 2-1 heading into the final moments but could hold on.

Auburn Mountainview boys soccer is coming off a state tournament appearance last season, and so far this season, they have been playing solid, high level soccer.

The Lions are second in the entire NPSL in total goals scored and first overall in goals scored per game at 3.2, leaving them with a 3-2-2 record.

With all of that scoring prowess, it might have been their mentality that really hurt them down the stretch. The Lions and Gators came to a 2-2 draw on March 29, despite leading 2-1 heading into stoppage time.

“I have a love-hate relationship with soccer. Sometimes I love it and these games are why I hate it… Sometimes a tie is a win, other times (like tonight) it is more of a loss,” Head Coach Joey West said.

“We totally overlooked Decatur,” West said. His players felt the same way.

“We came in underestimating (them) seeing their past records. We just can’t do that with any team because every team can win a game,” senior Nate Esayase said.

From the start, it didn’t appear that the Lions were overlooking Decatur at all. They were giving the Gators all they could handle in the first ten minutes, recording nine shots in that span.

But try after try was rejected either by the Decatur goalkeeper, the post or a defender, who found their way on the goal line. To put in that much effort for no reward is really difficult to handle and could cause a slip up on the back end of the field.

“We just had to keep going and a chance could have came. But momentum changed on that free kick. It was great free kick,” Esayase said.

The Gators might have possessed the ball three times before Angel Blanco was fouled and scored the first goal of the game for Decatur. A pure strike from 40 yards out beat Jonathan Ochoa-Felix in the top right corner of the goal in the ninth minute.

That goal might have stunned the Lions a little bit as Decatur controlled the ball and tempo for much of the first half after taking a 1-0 lead. But senior Nate Esayase found some space and made a couple runs to try and get Mountainview going and he did. “It definitely gave us a boost… Nate is definitely a leader on our team, we were looking for a spark,” West said.

A ball sent over the top of the backline gave Esayase the opportunity he had been trying for. One touch, and a shot under the arm of the Gator keeper, evened the game at 1-1: “I knew it was coming, I knew I was going to get one,” he said.

Lion senior Davyd Fedina’s right foot put Auburn Mountainview in front in the 57th minute of the contest.

In goal, Ochoa-Felix was battle tested against the Gators. He was even hit with some friendly fire pregame, taking a shot to the face before the game even started. Then late in the second half, a Decatur striker lunged for a shot and collided with Ochoa-Felix. He was in visual pain, having taken a knee to the chest and a cleat to the leg. But he stayed in the game and made some big saves down the stretch. “He is a stud. He is very tough,” West said.

Esayase backed his keeper and has the most confidence in his shot stopper: “He’s the toughest player on the team… There is nothing bad about him. He gives 100% every time.”

Both teams played extremely scrappy and physical soccer throughout the game. That was something that the Lions did not have expected from Decatur. The Lions have played physical games before with this group, but the Gators brought it and they did not.

“We can play physical, I just don’t think we were prepared for it,” West said.

But the high of a 2-1 lead only lasted so long. As the final whistle was nearing, Decatur used a deep throw-in play to score the game-tying goal in stoppage time, stealing a point from right under the Lions’ noses. “(A tie) has never felt so much like a loss,” Esayase said after the game.

“They were celebrating the tie like they won the Super Bowl,” Esayase added.

This game serves as motivation for the Lions, and both West and Esayase were disappointed after the game. They felt like this was a trap game that got them and is a learning experience for what is to come this season.

“It’s a learning experience, a humbling experience,” Esayase said.

“It is 100% a wakeup call,” West said.

Nate Esayase celebrates with a shout after scoring against Decatur. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Nate Esayase celebrates with a shout after scoring against Decatur. Ben Ray / The Reporter