Floyd Central took advantage of a key missing component in Seymour’s defense and walked away with the hardware after a 3-0 win in Saturday’s Seymour Sectional championship soccer match.
The Owls (7-8-1), carrying a run of three straight shutout victories into the contest, held Floyd scoreless for 35 minutes when center defensive back Jake Loebker suffered an ankle injury while battling for and winning a ball deep in Seymour’s end.
The injury knocked Loebker out of the remainder of the game and forced the Owls to move pieces around to fill the hole in their back line.
“It’s like a machine. You take one part out and it’s hard to replace it,” said Brody Unterseher, Loebker’s fellow central defender. “It was tough to lose him.”
Floyd Central benefited immediately. Just moments after Loebker’s departure, with 6:48 left in the first half, Cole Jones sent a free kick in front of Seymour’s goal, where teammate Tyson Oliver knocked in the game’s first score.
The Highlanders (12-4-3) added another goal 90 seconds into the second half by Bryce Johnson, who 12 minutes later scored FC’s third goal when he found the net on a free kick from just outside the Owls’ penalty box.
With Saturday’s win, Floyd earned a regional berth and on Wednesday will take on Jasper, who claimed the Castle Sectional crown with a 1-0 victory over Evansville North.
The loss, meanwhile, ended Seymour’s season and denied the Owls their first sectional title since 2009. Saturday’s finals appearance was their first since 2015.
“It isn’t the ending we wanted, but we can be proud of the effort,” Seymour head coach Matt Dennis said. “The early second-half scores hurt. We had a plan, and I thought we were executing it quite well. We did exactly what we looked at on film this morning and exactly what we trained yesterday. I’m proud of our guys and the way they handled themselves and fought hard.”
Floyd Central ended with an 11-4 advantage in shots on goal. All four of Seymour’s shots came in the second half. Unterseher, Myles Chandler, Sotaro Miyagawa and Amir Morales took aim at the Highlanders’ goal but were rebuffed.
The game was spirited throughout but was marred 7 minutes into the second half when Seymour’s Jovany Martinez and Floyd’s Dakota Hart got tangled up while battling for the ball and then got into a shoving match.
In a flash, a midfield melee involving all 22 players ensued, resulting in red cards and dismissal for Hart and Martinez, which in turn required each team to play the rest of the match with just 10 players.
The red cards were later accompanied by an additional four yellow cards, which were issued at various times during the balance of the match.
The final result dampened but could not wash away the good feelings generated by a season that started with three losses by a combined 8-0 score to Jasper, East Central and Bloomington South but ended in the sectional championship game.
“We changed our schedule a few years ago so that our first few games would be difficult,” Dennis said. “We wanted to be put into difficult situations and grow out of that. Our first three games this year really battle-tested us. Nobody likes to lose, but learning from loss is good.”
Dennis’ players bought into the trial-by-fire approach.
“You can’t have an easy schedule and get better,” senior goaltender Will Smith said. “Having a tough schedule is important. That’s what got us here tonight.”
That didn’t make those early losses easy, of course, but the team’s reaction to them proved to be rewarding.
“After the first couple of games, I was disappointed, but we improved, we fought, we battled,” Unterseher said. “We were passionate, we came back and we showed what we could do. It was a pleasure watching this team grow.”
Added senior midfielder Sam Chandler, “It took a lot of work to get to where we are. I knew we would come together at some point. It just took us a little longer. The team kept working together, and we molded into one.”
Chandler played the kind of gritty, technically sound soccer for which he has developed a reputation. Smith ended the night with four saves. Unterseher nearly followed up his goal in Wednesday night’s semifinal win over Bedford with another on Saturday, but his header sailed just over the crossbar of Floyd’s goal.
Dennis said those three players and the other departing seniors will be missed.
“I’m gutted that we couldn’t get one for them tonight,” Dennis said. “We’re going to miss this group. They’re an excellent group of individuals.”