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There was a sense of anticipation Aug. 27 at the Stow Soccer Stadium when the Stow-Munroe Falls boys soccer team welcomed Woodridge to town.
This battle of the Bulldogs lived up to the hype.
After taking an early lead and falling behind 3-2 in the second half, Woodridge scored twice in the final five minutes to pull out a 4-3 win over Stow.
Things didn't get any better for Stow Aug. 30 in its Suburban League National Conference opener against Wadsworth. The Bulldogs dropped a 2-0 loss to the Grizzlies.
Stow dropped to 0-3 on the season, including 0-1 in the National Conference.
Stow coach Kyle Kosmala let his players have it after the Woodridge game, telling his players in the post-game huddle there was "no reason" for them to lose the contest after being up 3-2 in the 75th minute.
Kosmala said his young team needed to work on its communication and noted Woodridge star Caleb Whittaker was the difference in the game.
"We didn't have an answer for him," Kosmala said. "We just lost containment on him a couple times. You can't do that with a player like that."
Woodridge coach Todd Hartong called the contest "a super intense match" and noted Stow soccer kept to its strength.
"You always know what you're going to get from a Kyle Kosmala team," Hartong said. "They're going to try to get to the end line and put crosses in. My backs were still running backwards for the entire game."
The game featured two teams who like to play offensive, possession-based soccer. Both teams routinely were going the full 100 yards on plays.
Woodridge got the first goal, thanks to a bit of bad fortune for Stow in the fifth minute.
Whittaker ran along Stow's end line and put a cross into the six-yard box. Stow defender Nyigel Spann was there, but his header went into the Stow net for an own goal.
The match stayed at 1-0 until the 36th minute, thanks to a hustle play by Stow's Aiden Banner. Banner was able to run down a long ball on the Woodridge end line and lose his defender. He then put a shot in from a tight angle, which went in to make it 1-1 at the half.
It was Banner's first varsity goal, but he was just getting started.
So was Whittaker, who restored Woodridge's lead in the 52nd minute.
Whittaker swerved by three Stow defenders to get in the box and put his shot just beyond the reach of Stow goalie Andrew Herring. Spann attempted to clear the ball off the line, but referees ruled it crossed the goal line to make it 2-1.
"When you've got a kid like that, you just let him play," Hartong said of Whittaker.
Banner would answer three minutes later. When Stow senior Cam Casenhiser put in a cross into the box, Banner whipped his header into the net to make it 2-2.
Banner then earned a chance to complete his hat trick in the 65th minute, when he was fouled in the box. Banner took the penalty kick himself and placed it perfectly in the right corner of the net, beyond the reach of Woodridge keeper Sam Reaman.
However, in the 75th minute, Whittaker broke loose for a long run and sent a cross into the box. Stow could only make a weak clearance of the ball, which fell to Woodridge senior Alex Powell, who launched a rocket into the right side of the Stow net to make it 3-3.
Woodridge completed the comeback in the 77th minute when junior Devin O'Laughlin ran in on the net. O'Laughlin's initial shot was saved by Herring, but O'Laughlin put the rebound home.
Woodridge finished with an 8-5 edge in shot on goal. Herring had four saves, while Reaman had three.
Against Wadsworth, Stow struggled to get its offense going, as the Grizzlies outshot the Bulldogs 12-2 in the loss. Wadsworth also had a 6-1 edge in corner kicks.
Wadsworth sophomore Kai Wagner accounted for both goals, scoring once on either side of halftime.
Junior Spencer Raymond-Smith returned to the goal and made 10 saves to keep the Bulldogs in the game. Grizzly goaltender Tyler Randolph finished with two saves.
Stow was set to host Uniontown Lake Sept. 1, but results were not available at press time.
The Bulldogs return to National Conference play Sept. 6 vs. Nordonia before hosting Massillon Jackson Sept. 8. Both games will kick off at 7 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium.