CHILLICOTHE – When Jerrod Redding took over as the Fairfield Union boys’ soccer coach three years ago, he knew he had to beef up the schedule if the Falcons wanted to go on a deep tournament run, even it meant his team had to go through some growing pains.
When this group of seniors were sophomores, they had success and the culture began to change, but they weren’t quite able to get over the hump come tournament time, mainly because they weren’t challenged enough during the regular season. The last two years were tough because the Falcons were knocked out of the tournament relatively early.
Thanks to playing a tougher non-conference schedule, it prepared the third-seeded Falcons for the postseason, and on Saturday, it all paid off with a 3-1 Southeast District Division II district championship win over No. 2 seed Athens at Southeastern High School.
“When took the program over this group of seniors were sophomores and I didn’t feel like they were challenged enough,” Redding said. “We won the league that year but were knocked out of the tournament earlier than we wanted by this same Athens team in overtime two years ago. I didn’t feel like we were challenged enough to make a long tournament run, so I loaded the schedule with tougher games, and I think it hardened them and they were ready for bigger challenges that we were going to face in the tournament.”
Saturday marked the first time the Falcons (17-2-1) had returned to a district championship game and the last time they had won a district title since 2015.
Fairfield Union advances and will face Marietta in a regional semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Chillicothe’s Herrnstein Field.
Falcons’ energy level was on point
The Falcons, who had lost to the Bulldogs five times in the last four years, showed this time was going to be different. They played with a ton of energy from the get-go and took the fight to Athens from the start and dominated the first half of play.
The Falcons took a 1-0 lead less than four minutes into the game when senior Caleb Redding scored at the 36:51 mark of the first half. With 13:17 remaining in the half, Will Worthington knocked in a goal to push the lead to 2-0, and with 8:35 left, the Falcons took a 3-0 advantage when sophomore Parker Redding scored.
Fairfield Union senior goalkeeper DJ Spicer kept the Bulldogs off the board in the first half as the Falcons went into the break with a 3-0 lead. Athens began to push the issue in the second half, but Spicer made a pair of fantastic saves. Athens was finally able to score on a penalty kick with 12:29 left, but the Falcons’ defense kept them at bay the rest of the way.
“We came out and executed, and when you go up early in a game like this, is huge,” Caleb Redding said. “I felt like we were getting every 50-50 ball, the energy was high, and everything worked out in our favor. It’s a great feeling because we felt like we have accomplished just about everything but winning a district title and that was next up on that list. For our class to not ever win one was certainly a goal we wanted to achieve.”
It was a record-breaking day for Redding, who broke the regular season assists record earlier this season, and he tied the school record with most goals in a season with 27 on Saturday.
“He just has an ability to score, and he has a knack for putting the ball in the back of the net,” coach Redding said. “He has scored over twenty goals in each of the last three seasons.
Senior Caleb Schmelzer said the Falcons had been building for this moment for the last three years.
“We’ve always known we could do it but it was just a matter of getting everything aligned and being able to go out there and execute,” Schmelzer said. “We stepped up in practice and the culture this year is just different. Leadership, coaching, everyone has stepped up.”
Tom Wilson is a sports reporter for the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette. Contact him at 740-689-5150 or via email at email@example.com for comments or story tips. Follow him on Twitter @twil2323.
This article originally appeared on Lancaster Eagle-Gazette: Fairfield Union dominates Athens in first half and secures district title