The Truckers used a defense-first strategy to stay even with one-loss Vermilion — the Sandusky Bay Conference Lake division champions and the top seed in the Clyde district — and even scored first as the teams went to halftime deadlocked at 1-1.
But a sloppy giveaway in the first two minutes of the second half gave the Sailors (15-1-1) the lead for good as they scored five goals in the second half en route to a 6-1 victory in Thursday’s Division II sectional championship.
“That’s exactly what we tried to do in the first half — play defensively,” Norwalk coach Jon Kijowski said. “And we knew what was going to happen — they were going to come at us really hard in the second half, and they caught us on our heels a little bit and snuck one in early. It was an uphill battle after that point.”
After holding off Vermilion’s attack to start the first half, Norwalk got forward sparingly, but made it count when they did. With 13 minutes to play in the first half, the Truckers were attacking and got fouled 10-to-15 yards past half field for a free kick. Luke Kelley took the kick and placed the ball perfectly to the back post, where Petie Adamos headed it in for a 1-0 lead.
Kelley had another dangerous free kick opportunity seven minutes later that went just over the crossbar.
The Sailors responded with attempts to close the half, and the third one got past Norwalk keeper Zach Albright.
With four minutes left Zack Kelly found Caleb McCullough through in the box, but Adamos shut down that attempt. Then Logan Penton hit a shot over ten seconds later. But with 2:13 left in the first half, the Sailors played a ball across the box and Riley Baxter ran on and finished for the 1-1 tie at halftime.
In the second half, Kelly scored his first of two goals just under two minutes in off a defensive misclear by Norwalk. Kelly intercepted the clearance attempt, took the ball in and placed it past Albright for the 2-1 lead.
The Sailors scored again 10 minutes later as Justin Stask scored off a cross from Baxter.
Kelly scored his second goal of the game four minutes later, as Penton had a breakaway off a punt from keeper Ryan Habermehl. Penton played the ball across the face of the goal and Kelly ran on and finished it.
Penton added a goal of his won just over one minute later to make it 5-1 with 23:47 to play.
With 12:13 to play, Penton scored again off a long ball in from Ryan Bodeker.
Shutting down Kelly was part of Norwalk’s game plan in the first half, but the scoring barrage in the second half changed things.
“Our plan was to just shut him down — we put one on him in the first half and just told everyone else to be aware,” Kijowski said of Kelly. “And I think we did a pretty good job in the first half, but when they got that goal in the second half, we kind of had to get away from that game plan and push forward, and it didn’t work out.”
Norwalk ends what Kijowski called a roller coaster season with a 7-10-1 record.
“It was up and down,” he said of the year. “We started off slow, picked up in the middle — literally, just like a roller coaster. Toward the end of the season we gained a little bit of steam, and usually that carries over in the tournament — we got a win on Monday (2-0 vs. Mansfield Senior) and that was nice, but just not a good feeling being here at the end of a year. But, Vermilion’s a good team and they’ll do well as they move forward.”
The Sailors go on to face Ontario — a 9-0 winner over Clear Fork — in a district semifinal Monday at Clyde.