By Keith Stewart
Mattoon may have struck first Friday night, but Bethalto (23-4) would strike last and repeatedly to defeat the Green Wave 6-1, bringing Mattoon’s season and head coach Ryan Ghere’s boys soccer coaching career to a close.
“For the first 25 minutes, we played really well,” said Ghere. “We were still on our heels a lot, but they’re so good. We were playing defense the whole time.”
The Eagles nearly did strike first, however, when just seven minutes in a shot that deflected off keeper Jason Skocy and bounced back to a Bethalto player who put another shot back on goal — only to be headed away by senior Ty Eastin for the goal-saving clearance.
But Bethalto would set up shop in Mattoon’s defensive half as the Eagles won goal kick after goal kick and controlled the midfield and held the majority of possession, aided largely by Bethalto’s two center backs.
“Defensively, they’re solid,” said Ghere. They just don’t give you many looks.”
Be that as it may, it didn’t deter Mattoon players from believing they could score or win.
And that belief was no more evident than with 26 minutes remaining in the first half when freshman Parker Masse crossed the ball in to junior Jace Gardner, who was waiting just to the left of the back post and headed the ball back across the face of the goal to put the Green Wave up 1-0.
“Give our kids credit,” said Ghere. “I thought we came out and competed, and I think every one of them thought we were going to win, and we played like it. It was a great cross from Parker Masse and a great finish by Jace to get us up 1-0. And then you’re just hoping you can get to halftime with that lead.”
But with so much pressure being put on Mattoon’s back line, the Eagles finally broke through with just over 10 minutes remaining in the half when sophomore Tyler Wilson put a through-ball just left of the goal for senior Bryce Davis to run onto. Skocy attempted to beat Davis to the ball, but was just a half step late as Davis poked the ball into the right pocket for the equalizer.
“He’s just so slippery,” said Ghere. “And when you make it back and forth, it opens balls up behind the defense to number 35, and he’s just so fast.”
Davis would repeat the feat minutes later when he received another quick pass up field, ran onto it, and placed it just past Skocy’s outstretched hands. Davis would finish the night with four goals to put his season total at 58 goals and counting.
“I’m glad we have him, because I wouldn’t sleep much if I had to game plan against him,” said Bethalto coach Derek Jarman of his senior striker. “He’s just all over the place, and he plays the game the right way and he just creates a lot of chances for us.”
“He’s probably the best finisher we faced all year,” added Ghere. “He can get going and just keeps his composure.”
Even with the offensive threat in Davis though, Ghere reassured his team that they were certainly still in the game down 2-1 at the half.
And the Green Wave nearly tied the game just two minutes into the second half when they earned a direct kick wide left of the 18-yard box. Gardner would curl his shot around the wall but comfortably into the Eagles goalkeeper’s hands.
“We had chances,” said Ghere. “We could have tied it 2-2 in the second half. The ball shot by Jace, it was a great shot. It was just the angle. He was within inches of tying it up. People are going to look at the score and think it was a blowout but with 20 minutes to go, it was still a ball game.”
The game then went into a back-and-forth affair up until 23 minutes were remaining and Bethalto’s Brayden Zyung was on the receiving end of a thru ball that was snuck in behind the Green Wave defense; Zyung would slot the ball just right of Skocy’s gloves.
The Eagles would then add another goal five minutes later off a quick counter and from none other than Davis for his hat trick. The Bethalto senior then added his fourth and final goal five minutes later when he took an outside the right shot and pocketed it into the right corner, putting Bethalto up 5-1.
The last scoring of the night would then come two minutes later off a cross from the right corner that would bounce across the face of goal and be met with Ethan Miller’s one-time shot.
“They’re a heck of a ball team,” said Ghere. “They’re classy kids and well coached. I hope they do well next week.”
“That’s a big deal, that’s something the kids take pride in when we were sitting at 5-7 earlier in the year,” said Ghere. “I’m proud of them. They played hard, they competed, and I think we improved, and that’s what you want out of your kids.”
With the loss, Mattoon’s season came to an end. The season marked the sixth consecutive regional championship appearance and 11th consecutive season with a winning record at 12-11-1.
Friday also marked the end of an era with Ghere’s 25th and final season as head coach also coming to a close with a 294-219-60 career record. Ghere is 193-216-39 coaching the girls entering his final season in the spring.
“All fall I’m like, ‘It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal.’ And then the weight of the moment hits, and it’s pretty emotional after the game,” admitted Ghere. “It’s been a long time: 25 years. It doesn’t seem like 25 years. It’s gone by so fast, and it’s been so much fun. I’ve been able to coach great kids. I’ve had great assistant coaches. I have a lot of fond memories, and remember a lot of the big wins and the trophies we won, but more important than that is just all the great kids I’ve been able to coach.”
Following the game, Ghere was met by his wife Lori and a herd of longtime soccer supporters who greeted Ghere with hugs.
In the spring, Ghere will coach the girls soccer team for the last time. I Ghere has been at the helm of that program for its entire existence since first forming in 2001. But after that, Ghere will ride into the sunset of his coaching career at Mattoon, although he says he plans on being on the sidelines next year and continuing to help the program.
“They’ll move on. Soccer will continue,” said Ghere. “And next year I’ll be able to be out here as a fan instead of a coach, and, you know, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be out here supporting the program and helping it.”
And if the final minutes of the game are any indication, Ghere will certainly not be able to keep too much distance between him and the sport he has coached for 25 years. After subbing his starters out in the waning minutes of the game Friday, Ghere couldn’t help but still coach up freshman Christian Gonzalez, who nearly scored just outside the penalty box.
“No, I’m not going to coach him next year, but I want him to do well,” said Ghere. “It was a teachable moment, and that’s what you do as a teacher. You teach anytime you can. No matter if it’s in the classroom or on the soccer field.”
26:06 Jace Gardner (Parker Masse assist)
10:47 Bryce Davis (Tyler Wilson assist)
7:35 Bryce Davis
23:12 Brayden Zyung
18:46 Bryce Davis
12:17 Bryce Davis
10:13 Ethan Miller
Jason Skocy 10 saves