GARRETTSVILLE - Down one goal and a man going into the final 10 minutes of Tuesday's Division III district semifinal match at Garfield High School, Lordstown coach Tim Malone was keeping the faith on the touchline.
Following a red card to junior defender Allen Martinko in the 48th minute, the G-Men rattled off two goals to take the lead, and the Red Devils hadn't troubled the Garfield goal much since that point. Despite this, Malone said he felt he couldn't quit believing in his team.
"As a coach, you can never give up hope in the guys," Malone said. "It was all heart at the end of the game. Down a man, what else can you ask for?"
The Red Devils repaid that faith. Scoring two goals in a 7-minute span, 10-man Lordstown completed an improbable comeback over Garfield to punch its ticket to the district final, 4-3.
In need of offense late, Lordstown switched from a more possession-based, build-up approach to a more direct one. With forwards trying to get on the end of long balls, the G-Men (15-2-1) knocked the ball out of play to stop those chances.
Garfield's strategy created Lordstown corner kicks, and on two Dustin Hajnosz corners, the Red Devils (13-4-1) made Garfield pay. Jake Jones found the equalizer by climbing high at the far post for the Red Devils in the 71st minute, and in the 78th minute, freshman outside midfielder Garrett Behner came off the near post and headed the ball into the goal while going away from net to stun Garfield.
"I was just hoping that I would get it. I was really hoping that I didn't let my team down," Behner said. "I was just so excited. I'm glad we're moving on."
These two goals outlined the biggest difference between the two teams - Lordstown's aerial attack.
The Red Devils scored three of their four goals on set pieces. Jones opened the scoring by getting on the end of a Martinko free kick in the 13th minute, and his looping header with his back to the goal went into the back for the net to go along with the two late Lordstown goals.
"If we can get the game in the air and we can get our heads on the ball, we're very dangerous, and that's been a focus for us," Malone said. "Jake (Jones) individually has scored a lot of goals this year in the air, and anybody on this team can put the ball in (the net). So, we were very confident if we got the ball close up in the air, we were going to score."
Garfield coach Michael Coney said his team had many reasons to be proud of its season, even if it fell short of its goal. The G-Men won the Portage Trail Conference, County Division title, one year after winning the district title.
"This year, we won the conference, going 15-2-1, so this doesn't take anything away from the fact that we had an outstanding season," Coney said. "They're an outstanding group of young men, and it hurts to lose this one. We really wanted to win our district again. We were just on the short end today. We didn't execute, and they did."
As for the Red Devils, they move on to face fellow Northeastern Athletic Conference school Badger on Saturday at Badger High School.
After losing both regular season ties by the scoreline of 5-0, the Red Devils wanted another chance at the Braves, and they now get their wish, as Badger beat John F. Kennedy on Tuesday, 2-0. Despite Badger's success earlier this season, Lordstown will go into the match confident, Malone said.
"I'm really excited," Behner said. "I'm really hoping that we win it."