The Bryan boys soccer team survived a rude Senior Night awakening from visiting Swanton to salvage a 1-1 draw with a 74th minute equalizer from Tyler Manon at Recreation Park on Tuesday.
Bryan (8-1-7, 3-0-3) celebrated senior night by having all nine of its seniors on the field to start the game, which naturally meant some players were playing out of position. Swanton took advantage. Just three minutes after the Bryan seniors congregated on the field to celebrate their Golden Bears careers, they found themselves down 1-0 after Swanton senior Riley Hensley stormed down the left side and slotted a low right-footed shot past Bryan goalkeeper Isaac Lamore.
“I didn’t think we started as quick as we normally do,” Bryan coach Luke Collins said. “The biggest thing is the mental awareness that that’s how you have to come into the game. You have to be prepared and ready to go. We can’t take five minutes; we have to be ready right from the start.”
After staking an early advantage, Swanton (9-5-1, 3-2-1) fell back into a tactic Bryan had seen a few times this season when facing an uphill battle. A few of Swanton’s players who were playing in attacking positions for the first few minutes dropped back into a defensive formation, making it tougher for the Golden Bears to break through the back line and get a clear sight of goal.
Bryan had a few more chances in the first half — most notably a Reese Jackson free kick deflected just over the crossbar — but were generally held in check throughout the first 40 minutes.
“(Swanton) was difficult to break down; they did a good job,” Collins said. “It wasn’t until the last 10 to 15 minutes where we started to possess the ball and create some opportunities. It’s always tough when a team defends with seven, eight players. But we kept fighting and never gave up.”
That resiliency started to pay off about halfway through the second half as chances started to roll in with about 18 minutes left in the game. Keghan Pettit barely missed the left side of the goal, then later senior Brendan Reiser had a free header in the penalty box, but lost sight of the ball in the stadium lights.
The Golden Bears would make their breakthrough with about 5:30 left in the match. Reiser picked up the ball in the center of the field and dribbled toward the Swanton box before sliding a through ball to fellow senior Tyler Manon, who had made a diagonal run to the left side of the box. Manon chipped the ball over Bulldogs goalkeeper Ethan Hensley, and the ball nestled off the left post and in for the game-tying goal.
Bryan had one more chance to win the game, but Jackson was called for dangerous play in the box with about three minutes left, and neither team had another sight of the goal.
Collins said his team could learn something from the effort and resiliency it took to bounce back from an early deficit where their opponent played a more defensive style.
“We just kept fighting,” Collins said. “I know we were getting a little annoyed by how long it was taking to break them down, but when a team defends like that, you just have to keep working at it. I thought the boys did good. We’ll learn from this and get to work, but then we’ve got 10 days until districts.”