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Columbus blanks Mustangs
South Effingham's season ends in loss
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South Effingham's Brendan Bresnan battles Columbus' Harrison Nathan for possession during Columbus' 2-0 Class AAA first-round playoff win Friday.

South Effingham vs. Columbus

Columbus thwarts a corner kick.

The South Effingham Mustangs soccer team didn’t have the heartbreak of losing in double overtime in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs as they did last year. But it hurts just the same.

The Columbus Blue Devils, on the strength of Chris Toelle goals, beat the Mustangs 2-0 Friday at The Corral, ending South Effingham’s season.

“We were good for 20 minutes,” Mustangs coach Paul Richards said. “And then … I don’t know. We had a great week of practice and we prepared to play our game exactly the way we wanted to, and we abandoned it.”

After the Mustangs barely missed converting on two deep throw-ins in the first seven minutes, Toelle scored with 26:32 to go in the first half. At nearly the same mark in the second half, he was muscled his way to a loose ball and cracked a half-volley past keeper Daniel Browning to ice the game.

From there, Columbus’ defense continually turned aside any Mustangs’ threat and stopped most of them from even developing.

“That was probably as well as we have played this year on both ends,” Blue Devils coach Paul Cates. “We actually put a couple in the back of the net, and that’s been a problem for us.”

South Effingham went to its bread-and-butter throw-in deep in Blue Devils’ territory, trying to get the ball to 6-foot-3 Ian Anderson. His first header attempt landed on top of the goal. Less than two minutes later, his header try on Tyler Cox’s direct kick from midfield was inches over the crossbar.

Yet the Mustangs didn’t attack up the sidelines as Richards implored them to, and the Blue Devils’ defense collapsed around the middle.

“From a coaching standpoint, it’s tough,” he said, “but from a sport standpoint, it’s unique. You don’t get to call timeout. We had a hard time sorting it out. As a coach, I have to take responsibility for that. We couldn’t seem to re-establish our game. We did not want to feed the ball straight up the middle. When we forced the ball wide, we were strong off the wings.

The Blue Devils, who lost in the Class AAA title game last year 2-1 to Westminster, will face the winner of Cairo-Spalding in the second round. But Cates said his team is young and their inexperience, coupled with a long drive and an unknown foe had him nervous.

“We knew it would be a dogfight,” he said.

But Toelle’s first goal, as he found himself with space inside the 18-yard box on Browning’s right hand side, lifted some of the pressure off the Blue Devils (11-4).

“It makes all the difference in the world,” Cates said, “especially when you’re uncertain about your team and their team. We have played pretty good defense the last part of the year.”

Cates turned to his defense and Toelle, last year’s keeper who tore an anterior cruciate ligament during football season and returned to the team three weeks ago.

“He’s played a lot, so he understands the game,” Cates said. “He’s an athlete who knows how to play.”

Richards twice gambled on corner kicks in the second half, sending Browning into the Blue Devils’ box out of his own keeper post. But the Mustangs couldn’t convert the few chances they had.

“They played hard,” Richards said of his team. “They just were out of the game.”