Bluffton goalkeeper Nic Essinger, left, makes a save on a kick from Canfield South Range’s Quinn Pierson during Wednesday night’s Division III state semifinal at Doylestown Chippewa High School. Bluffton edged South Range 2-1 in double overtime to advance to Sunday’s state final. (Photo by Kent Tarbox)


Staff Writer

DOYLESTOWN — Jonathan Schriner was running for his life Wednesday night, and he ran right into a spot in Bluffton High School history.

Schriner raced up field to catch up to a long pass from Jayden Mays, outran the Canfield South Range defense in the process and then beat Raiders goalie Matt Lucas with a low, hard blast to the right corner of the net to give Bluffton a 2-1 double overtime win in the Division III boys soccer state semifinal at Doylestown Chippewa’s Memorial Stadium.

Lucas, who had to leave the game for a spell during the second overtime when he rammed his right shoulder into the post making a save, made two incredible saves with eight minutes on the clock. But he could not stop the final rush by Schriner.

“I was trying to get down there, to poke it past (the goalie) and finish like I always try to do,” said Schriner, a junior forward and a team captain.

“We wanted to drop it over their defense while they were pressed up, poke it in there between their defense and their goalkeeeper.”

Schriner’s goal rallied the Pirates from a 1-0 halftime deficit and earned the school its first trip to the state finals where Bluffton (18-2-2) will face Columbus Wellington School (17-2-3) at 4 p.m. Sunday in the state championship game at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus.

“It’s unbelievable. That’s a dream right now,” Schriner said.

“We worked so hard this season. We’ve been in so many tight games, four overtime games now.

“It’s amazing. We’re making history for our school, and there’s no better feeling than that.”

“We talked about being resilient,” Bluffton coach Steve Smucker said after the Pirates won their fourth straight tournament match in overtime.

“I don’t know how to explain it. We just seem to have caught some lightning in the postseason and we’re rolling with it.”

The first half was fast-paced, hectic and a bit chippy as both teams tried to establish control.

South Range pressed the attack early, but came away empty. Quinn Pierson, South Range’s leading goal scorer on the season, had a shot go off the right post just 1:20 into the match and had a header go wide of the goal 40 seconds later.

Just over 10 minutes into the match, Pierson got behind the Bluffton defense and went one-on-one with Bluffton goalie Nic Essinger. Pierson juked right and shot left. But Essinger, who made two clutch saves in a regional final shootout win over Ottawa Hills, didn’t go for the fake and made a diving save.

Bluffton controlled the ball less in the midfield, preferring long passes into the box and a scramble to convert the opportunity. It nearly paid off. Kaden Basil had a header go high with 17 minutes left in the half and, with 9:20 on the clock, Schriner took a nice feed deep in the box. When Lucas came out a bit too far, Schriner got off a quick shot that went just high and right of the goal post.

It was off a free kick — South Range’s fifth of the first half –that Pierson connected for his 25th goal of the season. Canaan Johnson lofted a looping ball into the box where Pierson headed it down, right and just inside the post to give the Raiders their 1-0 halftime lead.

Bluffton controlled the midfield better in the second half, and it finally paid off with just under nine minutes left in regulation. South Range was called for a penalty and off Jude Spallinger’s perfect free kick deep into the box, Basil converted the tying goal.

“We didn’t know if we could hang with them or not,” Smucker said. “Credit to them, they’re a terrific team. But we kept inching back into it. We know how tight it can get and how players can get rattled. But we hung in there, we tied it, and we finally got our moment.”

Hanneman, 419-427-8408

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