GAHANNA — Botkins junior Brendon Thompson has been a key player off the bench for the squad this season and also played off the bench last year.
But he didn’t see much playing time during the squad’s state semifinal run last year and hadn’t seen much time this postseason. He didn’t play much in a Division III regional semifinal at Columbus Academy on Wednesday, either — but he used his head in a crucial moment.
Thompson hit a header into the goal shortly after a throw-in to lift the Trojans to a 2-1 overtime victory and earn them a spot in a regional final for the second consecutive year. The squad will travel to Cincinnati Mariemont for the regional final on Saturday.
Nathan Schneider threw ball inbounds about 15 yards outside the goal. It hit the turf once and bounced toward Thompson, who then pushed it with his head toward the goal. It sailed over the outstretched arm of Columbus Academy’s goalkeeper and into the net with 5:36 left.
“I just saw the ball get crossed in and Zane (Paul) and Xavier just let it bounce up, and I just headed it in, redirected it into the upper net,” Thompson said.
Thompson had scored seven goals this season and had three assists entering Wednesday’s tournament contest, all of which had come in blowout wins.
“I was all hustle tonight,” Thompson said. “It was more hustle, more wanting to be in the game and wanting to prove to your teammates and your community that you want to play and get as far as you can in the tournament.”
Botkins coach Kevin Lynch said Thompson averaged about 25 minutes of playing time per game in regular season.
“We changed our formation and went to a 4-4-2 with two guys up top (in the second half) because we needed to get a goal,” Lynch said. “Brendon Thompson doesn’t normally play when we play the 4-2-3-1 formation, but when we switched to the 4-4-2, I put him in there, and the ball bounced our way again tonight. We’ll take it.
“Right plays, right time putting it in the back of the net. We just play hard and give everything we’ve got.”
It’s the third consecutive 2-1 tournament victory for Botkins (17-3-1).
“Hard work at practices, good team chemistry and just our positive outlook on the field makes the difference I think,” Thompson said.
The Trojans earned the program’s first regional title last year and will be looking for their second straight state berth on Saturday.
Thompson said he thinks last years’ experience will help the squad this Saturday.
“I think we’ve learned how to kind of calm down with the ball and learned to switch fields better, learn how to control the ball and pass and great really good touches,” Thompson said.
After a scoreless first half in which both teams had several good shots on goals, Columbus Academy struck first early in the second half when Charlie Tuckerman sent a penalty kick by Botkins goalie Carson Motter.
The Trojans switched to the 4-4-2 shortly after and tied it 1-1 with 29:51 left when Xavier Monnin took a pass from Schneider about 15 yards out and hit a hard, straight low shot into the goal.
“After we gave up the PK, I think our intensity picked up a little bit,” Lynch said. “I think we were upset that we gave up the PK. When we do put two people on the attack it gets us a little more excited.”
Both teams had other good looks in the second half; Columbus Academy had two shots hit the crossbar.
“They were a good team with a lot of foot skills,” Lynch said. “… We just worked hard, and sometimes the ball just bounces your way. When you get to this time of the year, the bounces have to go your way if you want to advance. I think these two teams are pretty level.”
Mariemont (20-0-0) was ranked first in Div. III in the final state coaches association poll. The Warriors beat Troy Christian 2-1 in a regional semifinal on Wednesday in Cincinnati.
“I guess if we had to travel to Columbus, we might as well travel to Cincinnati, too,” Lynch said.
Columbus Academy, which advanced to a D-II state semifinal last year, finishes 10-7-2.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.