TROY — After a disappointing effort in a 9-1 loss at Tippecanoe back on Sept. 15, all the Troy boys soccer team wanted to do Thursday night was compete.
“We wanted to play hard and take it to them,” Troy coach Richard Phillips said. “Because we never challenged them the last time, because we were embarrassed the last time. We wanted to challenge them and make a game out of it.”
And while the Trojans did just that, the Red Devils were up to the challenge.
Troy scored in the game’s opening minute and held a 2-1 halftime lead — the first time all season that Tippecanoe has trailed in a game. But the Devils rallied with three unanswered goals in the second half, putting away a 4-2 victory Thursday at Troy Memorial Stadium to finish a second straight undefeated regular season.
Tippecanoe, which was ranked fourth in the state in the latest Division II poll, finished the season 16-0 heading into next week’s sectional tournament.
“It’s nice to see the adversity, honestly. Heading into tournament time, that’s what we need,” Tippecanoe assistant coach Ian Porto said — head coach Scott Downing was quarantining out of an abundance of caution. “You need to see how your team responds when things don’t go your way, or there’s a wet field like tonight, you don’t catch a bounce, you miss a play. It’s about the heart, and that’s a great thing to see.”
Troy finished the regular season 14-2, with both of those losses coming at the hands of the Devils.
“Regardless of the score, we just wanted to come out and play and play as hard as we possibly could,” Phillips said. “It comes back to a little bit of pride. We work hard in training, and we want to play the same way. That’s all we ask of them to do, that’s what it’s all about — just come out, work hard and be proud of what you’re doing.
“I was happy with it tonight.”
The Trojans made it clear from the start that it wouldn’t be the same as the first meeting.
Troy took the opening kick into Tippecanoe’s defensive end and drew a foul. Jon Hipolito set up the direct kick quickly and caught the Devil defense off guard, sending a ball in that Jaden Williams redirected into the goal to give the Trojans a 1-0 lead 27 seconds into the game.
Fromt there, Tippecanoe controlled much of the first half, but Troy goalie Sam Westfall and the Trojan defense were able to keep the ball out of the net until 8:32 remaining in the first half when Evan Stonerock ripped in a 25-yarder from the left side to tie the score at 1-1.
Troy responded, though, retaking the lead with 6:51 left in the half. Caleb Steggeman stole the ball at midfield and sent a long pass forward to Hipolito, who got passed the goalie and tapped the ball into the open net to put Troy up 2-1, which was where things remained at halftime.
“We just haven’t had that many situations this year where we’ve faced adversity, and I thought they responded with class,” Porto said. “Even at the half, down a goal, it was all positive. The guys knew they played well in the first half, and we knew if we kept at it, the goals would come.
“You learn about your team on nights like tonight. It’s all about the heart, and it’s awesome to see us show that heart.”
The second half was all Tippecanoe, though. With 34:16 left in the game, Jake Smith hit a direct kick into the box that Jackson Kleather headed into the goal to tie the score at 2-2. And with 31:39 on the clock, Blake Heeley finished off a corner kick by Smith to put the Devils on top for the first time on the night, 3-2. Stonerock then added an insurance goal with 8:22 remaining on an assist from Owen Hadden, and the Devils put the win away from there.
“Unfortunately, they got some goals in front, and hopefully we learn from that, like we learned from the mistakes we made at Tipp,” Phillips said.
Both teams begin tournament play Monday, with Tippecanoe hosting Greenville and Troy hosting Springfield.