The Licking Heights High School boys soccer team was hoping to apply pressure to defending league champion Grandview in the MSL-Cardinal Division opener Sept. 13.
However, the Bobcats won 3-0 after the teams played a scoreless first half.
"Grandview has dominated our league for quite some time," first-year coach Zach Grubb said. "It would've been nice to play them later in the season rather than opening the league against them. We could've gained a bit more experience, but that's the way it was scheduled. I feel confident that when we play our best, we can play with anyone on our schedule. But we are going to continue to improve from here."
Grandview scored five minutes into the second half and made it 2-0 on a penalty kick near the midway point of the half. The Bobcats added the final goal while Licking Heights was down a player after receiving a red card.
"We played our hearts out, but made a few mistakes," Grubb said. "We got caught a little out of position on the first goal and then allowed a penalty kick. Overall though, it was a great effort. We had a header off the crossbar in the first half and had a few other opportunities that we didn't convert that would've put us ahead in the first half. But their keeper was really strong."
The Hornets, who won four of their first six games this season, finished 3-1-1 in the league last season to place second behind the Bobcats (5-0). Fisher Catholic (2-2-1) was third, followed by Liberty Union (1-2-2) and Harvest Prep and West Jefferson (both 1-4).
Licking Heights resumes league play Thursday, Sept. 20, when it plays host to West Jefferson.
The defense has been solid for the Hornets, with senior Dennis Kaili leading the way at stopper. Abdul Mohamoud, Matt Olagbenro and Tinashe Mareya have played well in front of junior goalkeeper Abdi Fatah.
"Our defense has been really strong. We're getting control of the ball and moving it out, working it up," Grubb said. "We're not just clearing the ball. I think we've improved our possession, which helps the defense, too."
Zach Phillips scored in wins over Madison Christian (2-0 on Aug. 25), New Concord John Glenn (6-1 on Aug. 30) and Gahanna Christian (4-0 on Sept. 8).
Caleb Smith scored twice against John Glenn and Beven Chifamba had two goals against Gahanna Christian.
"We need to finish our opportunities better," Grubb said. "We've been working on set pieces, crosses, headers and quick touches. We've gotten great play from the midfield and defense, but when we're within (18 feet), we struggle to put it in the net.
"Sometimes we dribble too much looking for the perfect ball. What we need to do at times is just take the shot and crash the box to get a ricochet or a free ball. We're not crashing the box enough after shots, we're just kind of watching."
Waters: Football team needs to stay focused
The football team moved to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 by beating Teays Valley 42-21 on Sept. 7.
"Our record doesn't mean anything at this point, other than it's a good start," said coach Darrin Waters, whose team opened MSL-Cardinal play Sept. 14 against Harvest Prep. "We're just starting league play and we have to stay focused on just the game ahead of us. These kids want to do the things that help them leave their mark on Licking Heights football."
The Hornets' strong start had them second behind Zanesville in the unofficial Division II, Region 7 computer rankings through three weeks.
However, Licking Heights still must play three teams that opened 0-3 -- Millersport on Oct. 5, Berne Union on Oct. 19 and Fisher Catholic on Oct. 26.
Licking Heights will play at Liberty Union on Friday, Sept. 21. The Lions were 2-1 overall before playing Millersport on Sept. 14. They won their first two games, beating Bloom-Carroll 17-16 on Aug. 24 and Fairfield Union 21-6 on Aug. 31, before losing to Amanda-Clearcreek 12-10 on Sept. 7.
"Liberty Union is an established well-run program that has a good tradition," Waters said. "They always play hard and usually have very good, aggressive linebacker play. They have been in the playoffs several times and have a winning tradition."
Licking Heights faced some adversity against Teays Valley. The Hornets trailed 14-0 in the second quarter before Josh Ausberry's 83-yard kickoff return made it 14-6. But the Vikings responded with their own kickoff return for a touchdown and a 21-6 lead.
Licking Heights pulled within 21-14 at halftime, as Ausberry scored on a 2-yard run for the second of his four touchdowns.
"He seniored up," Waters said of Ausberry, who had scoring runs of 15 and 52 in the second half and finished with 98 yards on nine carries. "He had a banner night and our offense runs smoother when we can establish the fullback."
Kendall Bradley added scoring runs of 60 and 39 in the second half and finished with 118 yards on six carries. Ron Carruthers-Kimball added 80 yards on 12 rushes, as the offensive line stood out, according to Waters.
"The line has been the cornerstone of this team," he said. "Everyone who has rotated in has contributed. We've gotten good blocking from tackles Willie Carter and Michael Zaky, guards Cameron Claborn and Ross Friel and center Steven Clum. Our tight ends, Luke Langkamp and Dante Burnett, have done a good job and Brenden Tiller also has played well at guard and tackle."