WHEELING - For the most dominant program in the Ohio Valley in the past four seasons, it's not too often Wheeling Park is staring at an 0-2-1 record after three games.
Following Saturday's 2-1 loss to Huntington at Wheeling Island Stadium, that is exactly where the Patriots stand.
''That was a very good team and they passed the ball really well,'' Wheeling Park coach Mario Julian said. ''They played overlap with runs and got their defense involved. We were mostly defensive and we are still coming up a little bit short.
Czahoroski (15) tries to fend off Huntington’s Matthew Miller during soccer action Saturday at Wheeling Island
''So far we've played Parkersburg and Huntington and those are two of the top teams. We played them both really tough but we have to figure out a way to turn this around and come up on the winning end.''
For a second, it looked like Wheeling Park was going to get its first victory. Up 1-0 midway through the second half, Eric Bonar took an indirect kick from 20 yards out. The ball went over Huntington goalkeeper Hunter Smith's hands, off the bottom of the crossbar and across the goal line in the 59th minute.
The Patriots celebrated what they thought was a 2-0 lead but the referee said the ball was not touched by anyone else - on an indirect kick it must be touched by two people before going in the net - and awarded possession to the Highlanders.
Huntington bounced back quickly and 36 seconds later tied the game as Jameson McCarthy headed the ball off a throw-in from Matthew Miller past Wheeling Park goalkeeper Ryan Seidewitz.
''That was very deflating,'' Julian said. ''That didn't change the outcome of the game but I think being up 2-0 we would have at least tied. But we have to be able to recover from something like that. It's part of the game and it happens all the time.''
Added Huntington coach Sammy Boateng: ''Soccer is a game that things can change in 30 seconds. Sometimes things fall your way and sometimes they don't. (Saturday) we made it fall our way. We pushed through it and I told these kids if they want to win a championship, things like that are what you have to fight through.
''We have been working on set pieces a day before a game, that's all we do. For two hours it's just set pieces, throw-ins, corner kicks. It was a nice little throw-in and everyone was in the right spot at the right time.''
Huntington (3-0) kept on the attack, much like it did all game. The Highlanders controlled the ball and outshot Wheeling Park, 6-1.
Oddly enough, it was a pass that turned into the deciding goal.
Huntington's Austin Preece battled along the end line with a Wheeling Park defender and passed in front of the net to try and set up a teammate for a shot on goal. Instead, the Patriots' Anthony Chapman stepped in front of the pass and accidentally knocked the ball into his own net to give the Highlanders a 2-1 advantage in the 67th minute.
Wheeling Park jumped on the scoreboard first in the 22nd minute with a goal from Jerry Lucas, its only official shot on net. Two minutes after the own goal, Lucas had a chance to tie it, stealing the ball from Huntington defender Nathan DeMoss and was 1-on-1 with Smith. Lucas was able to get around a charging Smith but his shot sailed wide of the open net.
''The game was very challenging,'' Boateng said. ''This is a different surface than we used to playing on and they are a great team. They know what they want to do but my guys have heart and they proved it. They did a great job.
''As a team, things don't always go your way but we kept plugging away and plugging away. In the game of soccer, if you believe in your system and believe in what you are doing, things will go your way. This is one of the biggest wins I've had as a coach and these kids really showed a lot of heart.''
For the Patriots, it's back to the drawing board with a matchup at Parkersburg South on Tuesday.
''We have a team that works hard, we have a team that is young, and we have a team that is finding their way,'' Julian said. ''It's early on in the season and we've played two of the tougher teams in the state and lost 2-0 and 2-1. They were both really good games and hopefully if we get a chance to play them, we can be on the other end of that.''