By Sheila Hiss
Special to the Democrat
Columbia County High School's soccer team returned to Suwannee County Tuesday night to play the Bulldogs in the first match of the men's 2005 Suwannee soccer season. Columbia had visited on the previous Saturday for the Preseason Classic where they appeared to be the strongest team, easily dispatching Santa Fe 5-2 and Ft. White 4-0. The Dogs and Tigers scrapped the entire game with the final score a victory for defense 0-0 tie.
Columbia brought 20 players dressed and ready for play while Suwannee had only 14, as Suwannee High and Coach Frank Johnson are awaiting ruling on the eligibility of four players from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
In spite of great success in the last few years, in and out of district play, Suwannee has never beaten Columbia County. There have been three ties and a few losses by only a goal according to Coach Johnson, but no wins. The Suwannee boys, including seniors Cameron Ridgeway, Billy Moran, Tyler Harris, Josh Hanusek, Jehmi Howell, J.D. Hales, and Matt Yanossy were eager to meet the challenge.
Columbia started strong. They overloaded the offensive side of the field, frequently allowing their keeper to roam far out of the box to await a Suwannee attack. The offensive push kept Suwannee on the defensive for the majority of the first half. The Tigers attacked often, penetrating the defense, but either their shots were wide or high or Nathan Moses, the Bulldogs keeper, fended off shots.
At both the 10-minute and 18-minute mark Columbia was awarded free kicks. The Suwannee defensive walls held fast and stopped both efforts. At the 25-minute mark the charging Tigers were awarded a penalty kick. Nathan Moses readied to defend but the Columbia shot was luckily a bit wide and hit the right upright and careened away.
Later, only minutes remaining in the first half, the game highlight occurred. Nathan Moses first stopped a close strong shot from a speeding Columbia striker. The ball bounced free and Moses, quickly returning to his feet, dove to stop a second hard shot by another Tiger. The ball bounced free again, and Moses scrambled off the ground and leaned to his right to stop a third point blank shot.
This superb effort was met with huge cheers from the Suwannee crowd and energized the spirits of the Dog players. Suwannee mounted some strong offensive efforts following Moses "keeper exhibition", but the half ended at 0-0.
The second half continued with strong play by the Columbia Tigers, but Suwannee had better success in repelling the Tiger efforts. The Bulldogs, with a few adjustments were more successful in their offensive efforts as well, but they could never find the mark or complete a charge with a goal.
Both teams had their chances, but as time progressed still no shot found the back of the net. Columbia, even with it's long bench, seemed to tire with about 15 minutes remaining in the final period. Suwannee, with much slimmer ranks, appeared to maintain their level of play, giving support to Coach Johnson's concentration on conditioning in early practices.
With play coming to an end both sides seemed to sense the urgency. Each team made strong finishes, but Columbia's advances seemed to be settling for longer unsuccessful shot attempts.
Suwannee's advances were getting deeper. In the final minutes, Billy Moran beat the keeper, who came out to challenge Moran. Moran sped away from the keeper but his shot was stopped by an alert Columbia County player who had hustled behind the out of position and beaten keeper.
Eventually time ran out for each side and the game ended in a 0-0 tie.
Coach Johnson commented following play, that it was, "A good way to start. We really got tested and we weathered their offensive plan". Johnson continued, " I saw some good, and I saw some bad, but it was a good first game."
The Suwannee men's next home game is, Monday, Nov. 21, Santa Fe High, a district game, with the junior varsity at 6 p.m. and the varsity matchup at 8 p.m. Come out and see some great soccer, and support your hometown Bulldogs.