Sophomore Chuckie Richards and Tonawanda earned a Class B-2 title to win the sectionals for the first time in 20 seasons. (Photo by Jeff Barnes)
Putting it in perspective — the last time Tonawanda boys soccer won a sectional title George H. Bush was president. The No.1 rated TV show was 60 Minutes. And none of the current Warriors were even born yet.
Jacob Choate’s goal ended the Warriors 20-year sectional title draught as No.6 Tonawanda defeated No.4 Akron 1-0 to claim the Section VI Class B2 championship at All-High Stadium on Saturday (Nov. 3).
A physical game throughout, you got the feeling early on that this was going to be a one-goal game. Midway through the second half, Choate took a pass from teammate Phil Giuga, split the Tigers defense and chipped the ball into the net passed the Tigers goalie who had come out to challenge him on the shot.
“I saw it coming to Phil, I just turned and I was just screaming for it,” Choate said as he replayed the moment.
“Me, Phil and Nate (Holler) we have good chemistry,” he added. “What I think, they think. When I turned I just knew it was coming over top and I hear (Phil) screaming that it was coming. I saw it bounce in front of me and was just patient waiting for it to come down and popped it over the goalie.”
Certainly the biggest goal of his scholastic career, it was even more amazing thinking back to Choate’s eighth grade season when he just missed passing the fitness test for soccer and ended up having a great season on the THS golf team. Lucky for the Warriors, he would return to his first love the following season.
“I grew up watching my brother (Josh) play. Watching his friends play and I just dreamt of being on the field like them, especially in sectionals, being a ball boy for them,” Choate said with an ear-to-ear smile. “It’s just unreal to be in the situation they were in and to be able to go a little farther and finish it.”
A second after Choate’s goal, the game took a weird turn. After jogging back to midfield, he gave a quick a wave to the Warriors fan section when he was tripped by an Akron player who was serving as a ball boy.
With emotions already running high because of physical play on the field, this ignited the frustration both fan sections were feeling. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and there were no incidents. The ball boy was issued a red card and told to leave the stadium. Choate was on the turf for several minutes, but was able to finish the game.
Warriors coach James Gabor said he was proud of the way his kids maintained their composure. They continued to play smart soccer and the only retribution they sought was staying in front on the scoreboard.
Akron brought tremendous pressure during the final 15 minutes of the first half but the Warriors were able to fight them off.
Riley Gardner was a rock on defense and Mark Emery may have played the best all-around game of his career. But it was junior goalkeeper Jesse Bortz who truly shined. Bortz, who took over as the starter a couple weeks ago, was brilliant as he made 10 saves on the day.
The day before in the B-2 title game, Bortz, who was still bearing a scar above his lip from where he got cleeted in the semifinal win over Southwestern on Thursday, told team trainer Charlotte Booth that he was somewhat nervous about suffering any kind of re injury.
“It’s already slightly broken, but that’s alright,” Bortz said. “I just have to keep my head up, keep pushing through the pain.”
But Bortz, who has given up just one goal in the playoffs, put whatever fears he had on the back burner as he put himself in heavy traffic time and time again to make the save or grab a loose ball.
“For a second string goalie to come in and put it on the line,” Choate said. “He got cleeted the previous game. Just to be there for every save. I saw one and I was like, ‘oh my gosh’ that looks like it’s going in. It was just a nice dive and that was definitely one of those key saves.”
Falling in the B1 title game last year, the Warriors knew they had the talent to go far again this season. But the key was how they unselfishly played for each other.
“They’re a special group of kids,” Gabor said as he clutched the sectional plaque. “There’s no quit in them. It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, they’re going to battle and play as hard as they can.”
Tonawanda punched its ticket to the B-2 title game by virtue of a 1-0 overtime win over No.2 seed Southwestern in a game that was also played at All-High. Giuga took a pass from Nate Holler and headed it home.
“I saw (Nate) step to it but I didn’t know if it was going to be driven up in the air,” Giuga said. “I kind of paused for a second and the ball came to me. I went down for it and connected.”
Holler filled in at goal for about 12 minutes after Bortz was bloodied by a kick in the face during the first half of the Southwestern game.
“They deserve to be here,” Gabor said of the title win. “They’re not a selfish group...They play for each other. They bust their butts and play as hard as they can for 80 minutes. They all deserve it.”