MAYFIELD – It was a new look for both teams Wednesday night under the lights at Mayfield High School.
The Panthers’ traditional gold home jerseys were replaced by all white uniforms with blue numbers.
Gone also were the purple and gold of the St. Johnsville Saints and the blue and white of Oppenheim-Ephratah. The newly merged Oppenheim-Ephratah/St. Johnsville district team donned their new red, black and grey colors emblazoned with the Wolfpack across their chests.
The look may have changed, but the action remained as intense as ever between the teams,.
The Wolves knocked in the first goal of the game before Mayfield tallied three unanswered goals to open the season on the positive side of the 3-1 Western Athletic Conference final score.
“I think we came out with the intensity we wanted to tonight,” OESJ coach Travis Heiser said. “Mayfield is predominately a soccer school but we thought we could compete and we did that in the first half. We were winning 50-50 balls, making very good runs and passes and we got the early goal. Then we had a mental breakdown and they scored to tie it up and that was fine. We were happy with going into halftime tied at one. We wanted to come out with more intensity in the second half but things just didn’t go our way.”
The Panthers (1-0-0 WAC) created opportunities early in the match only to have a hard shot by Josh Ivancic hit off the crossbar.
Less than two minutes later Todd Briggs lifted a centering pass to Matthew Messina who headed the ball on goal only to have it also bounce off the crossbar.
When the Panthers kept their shots on goal, OESJ goalkeeper Nate Trumble turned them away.
The Wolves also created opportunities early in the match that were turned away by the Mayfield defense.
However, with 19:31 left in the opening half, Tristan Engle broke the scoreless deadlock with his drive into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers wasted little time looking for an answer and got it just 57-seconds later.
Briggs broke through and put a shot on goal that Trumble knocked down, Briggs circled back, collected the rebound and slipped it over the goal line to tie the match at one with 18:34 left to intermission.
“That was huge that we responded so very quickly,” Mayfield coach Jon Caraco said. “In the first 10 minutes we had a lot of chances and hit the crossbar a couple of times. With that little bit of unluckiness on our part and them coming back to get that goal on us, it could have gone either way at that time. But I am happy with the way my guys responded.”
The Wolfpack had a tie-breaking opportunity with just over three minutes left in the half when a Mayfield defender was called for a foul, giving OESJ a direct kick just outside the penalty area.
Jonny Vicciarelli stepped up to the direct kick and fired it hard at the wall of Mayfield defenders. The ball spun through but goalkeeper Lucas VanNostrand alertly scooped up the loose ball for the save.
Mayfield broke the deadlock with 21:29 left in regulation.
Sophomore Jack Albertine received a head ball out of the midfield from Briggs. and moved around Trumble as he charged out to challenge the play. His shot hit the right post and rolled across the line before spinning into the net for a 2-1 lead.
The Wolfpack fought back to find the equalizer but were met by a rejuvenated Panther defense.
Briggs closed out the scoring with his second goal of the night after dribbling in from the left sideline and slotting the ball into the lower left corner for the 3-1 final score.
“We are definitely young, but that is not an excuse,” Heiser said. “We have kids that can play at this level. It is only one game. We will work at getting better and we will definitely keep battling.”
For the match, Mayfield out shot OESJ 13-7 and held a 7-2 edge in corner kicks. Trumble collected 10 saves in net for the Wolves, while VanNostrad recorded six.
“A lot of kids are learning new roles and we have kids in different spots on the field so it will take a little time to figure some things out,” Caraco said. “For a first game out I am not entirely pleased but I am not entirely displeased either. We did some good things with our ball movement but it was a bit slower than I would like. We will try to move the ball a little quicker and get into a rhythm.”
Mayfield will travel to play Saratoga Catholic Central Friday before returning home to play Northville Wednesday at 7 p.m.