COLUMBUS — The Howland boys soccer team had been waiting a year for this moment.
Getting the opportunity for revenge against Tipp City Tippecanoe, the team that beat the Tigers in last year’s state final, Howland dished it out on Saturday with a 5-0 win in the Division II state title game to finish off an undefeated season and capture the first state title in both program and school history.
“The kids knew what they needed to do to get better,” Tigers coach Brian Stiles said. “Tipp set the bar of where we had to get to and the kids just worked so hard all year to get this victory. I’m proud of them.”
After last year’s defeat in the state final, the Tigers knew they didn’t want that feeling again.
“I think once you lose this game you never lose that feeling and I think you don’t ever want that feeling again,” Stiles said. “The boys just worked so hard and now they know what it feels like to win one.”
The win marks the first boys soccer state title in Trumbull County history.
From the opening kickoff, Howland controlled the pace of the match, but the Red Devils used their size to advantage, physically keeping the Tigers at bay. Coming into the game, Stiles knew that overcoming Tippecanoe’s size early in the game was crucial in setting the tone.
“That was something we talked about in the locker room was the fact that we’ve got to survive that first 10 to 20 minutes because they’re a very physical soccer team, and they’re a very big soccer team,” he said. “The kids did a great job.”
Gabe Lisi put Howland on the board late in the first half. From that point on, the Tigers dominated.
“I think we played really well and I think we took control of the game,” senior midfielder Gabriel Altawil said. “I think the scoreboard reflected how we played.”
Kylan Mowatt-Larssen set the tone of the second half, scoring just three minutes after the break.
Jordan Sperling crashed the net the entire match and it paid off, as he scored twice in the second half.
“I’m feeling amazing,” Sperling said. “To get revenge in that fashion is definitely what we wanted. I’m thrilled to do this with my best friends. Great soccer players, great coaches, feeling great.”
Adding the icing on the cake was senior defender Tristen Rose, who scored with three minutes remaining.
As the clock hit all zeroes, the team erupted into celebration. Altawil hit the ground in tears of joy, and quickly found himself at the bottom of a dogpile.
The senior has been a vital member of the Howland program and can’t be happier that this is how his time with the team ends.
“It feels like it’s been forever, I just can’t believe it’s over,” he said. It was just the time of my life. Spending time with my brothers playing. We’ve been playing together for years and we had a great run and I’m happy. I’m happy the way it ended I’m just sad that it’s over.”
Howland finished the year with 136 goals for and a mere six against.
“This was our goal, we made it,” senior goalkeeper Lucas Brill said. “We did it. It’s done. This is a great way to end my senior year. I mean, I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys.”
The Tigers only allowed one goal in the postseason. That’s in no small part due to the play of Brill and the defense in front of him.
“The goal of soccer is to not let goals in so you could win,” Brill said. “With an attack so good that we have, if we don’t give up goals, we’re going to win because we could score so many. To give up only one all postseason I think it’s pretty impressive.”
As if the team didn’t need any other motivation, Brill told his teammates a story that added more fuel to an already raging fire.
“I told the guys before the game that I was in the bathroom and the Tipp boys didn’t know I was in there, and they said that ‘This ring is going to be easier than last year’s’,” Brill said. “I told the boys that before the game, but they really didn’t say it, I was just trying to get them amped up. They took it to heart and we brought it out.”
The Tigers graduate an incredibly strong 10-man senior class. As special as the win was, Stiles just wanted his seniors to have their best game in a Tigers uniform.
“My biggest thing was I want to see him play his very best game today,” Stiles said about Altawil. “All of our seniors, and I can say that today was the best game we’ve played all season. That’s the way you want to play in the championship.”
Howland’s last two seasons have been nothing short of dominant. Over the last two seasons, the Tigers posted a record of 43-1-2 and have capped off that run the way every team dreams of ending its season — with a title.