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Charlie Voth predicted Tuesday would come down to the midfield.
After, the Rovers boys soccer coach could only say that it was a shame someone had to lose.
Fortunately for Voth, Rootstown emerged with the 1-0 win, as sophomore Gerard Fernandez hammered home a deflection.
"I'm breathing a heck of a lot easier right now," Voth said. "You put the work in and show a little imagination and have some fun and creativity and work on defense, good things happen, and that's what happened today."
Just like that, the Rovers (8-1-1, 5-0-0 PTC County) took a big step toward a County championship -- while avenging last year's loss at Jack Lambert Stadium.
For the Red Devils (6-3-2, 3-3-1), Tuesday was a heartbreaker.
"Like I told you, it was going to be a midfield game, and that's what it was," Voth said. "Someone was going to have their heart broken, for sure. For the team that lost, it's really unforgiving. It's really unforgiving, because they really played their rear ends off."
Prior to Fernandez's strike with 5:01 remaining, there were few scoring chances to speak of.
Red Devils senior defenders Frank Fugman and Tom Carson did a splendid job contesting every ball to Rootstown's leading scorer, Teddy Durbak, who entered Tuesday with 19 goals in nine games.
"Their two center backs were just on the ball and were really good," Voth said. "They did a good job on Teddy, boxing him in.
"You got to cut his angle and be up in his face and don't let him get behind you, because when Teddy gets side-to-side or an angle on you or through, he's deadly, and that did not happen once today."
Meanwhile, Crestwood freshman midfielder James Hoover sprinted all around the midfield, with dashing speed and a brilliant handle, but Rootstown did well to catch up with him on the defensive end.
The Red Devils' Landon Little made five saves, while the Rovers' Dino Sorboro made two for the shutout, but neither keeper had to leave his feet much on a muggy Tuesday at Jack Lambert Stadium.
Early, Hoover crossed repeatedly into the attacking zone, but the Rovers defense was able to head away the Red Devils crossing attempts. Hoover connected early and often with senior attacker Caleb Gula, but Rootstown did well to cut off angles and get a body in the way of Gula's shots.
"(Hoover) is a fantastic player," Crestwood coach Brian Zilla said. "He's a special kid, and his attitude is even better."
"(Hoover) is going to be a really good one," Voth added.
The Rovers got a shot in the box with 11:30 remaining in the first half, but Little reacted quickly to knock the howitzer down. Early in the second, Little made a leaping save by his right post on a high-arcing, dangerous free kick.
But Tuesday's game belonged to the defense.
First, it was Rootstown senior Trizton Nunemaker playing beautiful 1-on-1 defense on a deep Crestwood throw.
Then, it was Fugman swooping in for a nice steal.
Shortly thereafter, it was Rovers junior Isaiah Schweizer clearing a dangerous throw-in, with a slick little roller out of bounds.
Then, it was Rootstown senior Cory Banks cleanly heading a long Crestwood free kick out of harm's way.
And finally, it was Fugman successfully mustering a diving challenge on a dangerous Rovers through ball into the box.
Back and forth they went, with no one getting a clean look.
It was going to take a breakdown or a deflection to finally end the stalemate -- and at last there was a ricochet right to Fernandez.
Just like that, the Rovers strengthened their grip on the County.
"(Our) guys played with imagination," Voth said. "(The Red Devils) needed the game really bad, and they played like the devil to get it."