HOWLAND — Two in a row.
For the second straight season, the Howland Tigers boys soccer team advanced to the Division II state final four. Howland hosted Chagrin Falls on Saturday afternoon in the D-II regional final and walked away with a 6-1 victory.
“We take it one game at a time,” Howland coach Brian Stiles said. “We don’t look past anybody. We keep working hard at everything we think we’re weak at.”
It’s hard to find many weaknesses on this Howland squad.
The Tigers (20-0-1) now have a plus-122 goal differential on the season. Their only loss last season was, 1-0, to Tippecanoe in the state championship. They have also tied Canfield, 0-0, in each of the last two seasons.
On Saturday, the Tigers tuned up the offense after slipping past top-ranked Bay, 1-0, in the regional semifinal.
“Last game, we really struggled offensively,” Stiles said. “I don’t think any of us were happy with our possessions. Much like when we’ve tied with Canfield. They are our kryptonite. We made a commitment during the week to become a more attack-ready team. The kids did a great job. When they’re hitting on all cylinders, they’re pretty tough.”
The warm, sunny weather matched a hot start for Howland. All-Ohio midfielder senior Jordan Sperling got the party started by scoring the Tigers’ first goal. Sperling went on to record a hat-trick with three goals in the contest.
One of the defenders for Chagrin Falls fell down, and Howland junior Kylan Mowatt-Larssen quickly gave the Tigers a 2-0 advantage. The score held until 8 minutes were left in the first half. Chagrin Falls senior Zach Lechman found the back of the net to make it 2-1 heading to halftime.
“That second goal was a tough one for us,” Chagrin Falls (18-3) coach Brian McKenna said. “We had a player down. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a stoppage of play. We battled back with that goal. After we gave up the fourth goal, we pulled our keeper because he is a terrific field player. Before we could even get him on the field, that fifth goal came, and that was it. Congratulations to Howland. They have a great team.”
Junior Gabriel Lisi scored midway through the second to make it 3-1. Sperling went sliding to his right and put the ball in the left side of the net for a 4-1 lead. Ten seconds later, senior Gabriel Altawil launched the ball high into the air. Altawil scored on an empty-netter from midfield to give Howland a 5-1 advantage.
Sophomore Vasili Gentis did a nice job of getting the ball out of trouble for Howland. Senior goalie Brill Lucas got a huge ovation from the Howland fans when Stiles took him out late in the game. Sperling knocked it in from right in front of the goal for the final tally.
“After the COVID situation happened, the kids kept working hard,” Stiles said. “They never lost faith. They were just hoping to have a chance. Now, we’re back in the state final four.”
Howland will take on Shawnee Lima in a state semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday.