WARRENSBURG - Warrensburg-Latham coach Kevin Emery benched midfielder Matt Leighton for 15 minutes to start the second half of Saturday's Class 1A Warrensburg Sectional championship game against Monmouth-Roseville.
"He did not have a good first half," Emery said of his junior starter. "His first touches on the ball were off. I pulled him to help him reset his mind."
Leighton told Emery he was ready to go back in.
"So, we just let him finish the game," Emery said.
Emery's decision paid off. Leighton went on to score the game-winning goal in sudden-death overtime to give Warrensburg a 2-1 victory.
"He made the best of his opportunity," laughed Emery, whose team moves on to Tuesday's Urbana University Super-Sectional against the host, Urbana Uni-High.
The game-winner came 1:30 into the second overtime after Cody Drew's header slammed off the post. But Leighton was in the right place at the right time and put away the rebound.
"The ball actually got me in the nose," said Drew, who scored the Cardinals' first goal in the second half to tie the game 1-1. "But when it hit the crossbar and I saw the ball bounce back into the box I thought, ‘Please someone get a foot on it.' And Matt came up with it."
Monmouth-Roseville's forward Jairo Ojeda put the Titans up 1-0 with 10 minute left before halftime. Ojeda out-muscled Cardinal defenders and sent a low shot past goalkeeper Keith Owens.
It was the first goal the Cardinals (20-3-1) gave up the entire postseason. It was also their first overtime game of the season.
"Monmouth was all we could handle," Emery said. "They were everything we thought they were going to be and more - made us really, really earn it."
Play of the game
Drew's tying goal in the second half. Less than three minutes into the second half, the Cardinals earned a free kick 30 yards from Monmouth's goal.
Austin Cearlock tapped the ball to Drew, and the senior forward bulleted it into the top right corner. Titans goalkeeper Rodrigo
Zamora stretched for it, but
couldn't get a hand to it.
"We run that play in practice all the time," Drew said.
But Emery wasn't exactly thrilled when he saw Cearlock and Drew setting it up.
"I was really hoping they
wouldn't do it," Emery said. "I don't like it when it's that far out. But as soon as he shot it, we could tell from our perspective (on the bench) that it was right on line."
Zach Aagard. The junior defender had the tough job of marking the Titans' 6-foot-2 forward Ojeda, who towered over everyone and easily muscled defenders off the ball.
"He's deceptively fast, too," Emery said of Ojeda. "We had trouble staying with him in the first half."
But Emery switched Aagard on Ojeda in the second half.
"Zach did a great job of shutting down (Ojeda) and made him work for everything," Emery added. "You could tell he was a little fatigued by the end of the game, and that's a testament to Zach for making him work so hard."
"Golden goal overtimes are always hard on the heart." Kevin Emery, Warrensburg-Latham coach on the Cardinals winning in sudden-death overtime.