CATO — The first two goals came 28 seconds apart, and the teams went another 79 minutes searching for the go-ahead goal.
The Blue Devils' Chad Thompson netted the equalizer with 19:02 left in the first half and two overtimes weren't enough to settle a winner, as the Cato-Meridian boys soccer team tied LaFayette, 1-1, at Cato-Meridian High School Wednesday.
After a 2-1 win over the Lancers earlier in the season, Blue Devils coach Larry Kristeller knew it would be a tight game.
"They're a good team and a good match for us," Kristeller said. "They've got about the same number of kids, and we just dinged them down at their place 2-1. I knew this was going to be a battle. It was a good game."
Gavin Carvey assisted on the Blue Devils' goal, while Trent Lunkenheimer finished with 13 saves in net.
"He's been fantastic this year," Kristeller said. "He's probably one of the best goalies in the league, and hopefully the league recognizes him for that. He's made some outstanding saves and kept us in some games, and I definitely think he's worthy of some accolades at the end of the season."
Lunkenheimer made a key save by tipping the ball over the net to keep the game scoreless in the seventh minute, but the Lancers' Reid Jackowski broke through with 19:30 left in the first half.
The Blue Devils quickly answered when Thompson scored 28 seconds later. The teams traded chances throughout the second half and in the two 10-minute overtimes, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Although they won't reach the nine-win mark like they hoped, Cato-Meridian has had a turnaround season. One year after posting a 2-13-1 record, Cato-Meridian is 7-7-1 heading into its regular season finale and has already earned a sectional berth for the first time in a decade.
"It's really the development of the players," Kristeller said. "One of my assistant coaches has worked with this group for many, many years. They're to the point where they're still together at the varsity level, and it's been eight or nine years those core players have been together. We knew they were coming, it was just whether we had the support, and this year we've had the support to help those guys through it. It's been a good journey."
A part of the turnaround is an increase in roster size, and athletes being able to step in when others get injured.
"Some of the kids have really stepped up and made a big difference," Kristeller said. "We're fortunate this year. I've got 15 players, four subs. Last year I had 12 and one was out with a concussion halfway through the season. We played half the season with 10. We're fortunate to have the numbers and the kids played well."
Cato-Meridian wraps up the regular season with a game against Moravia Friday.
"Hopefully we can get through that with a win and then prepare for sectional play for the first time in a long time," Kristeller said.