YORK TWP. — Elijah Kupetz didn’t know what to do with himself.
After netting the first goal of his career, which eventually was the game-deciding score, the Buckeye freshman ran to the box, hit the ball in and continued his sprint around the field before stopping in front of the packed crowd at the Thiele-Pierce Track and Soccer Complex.
His energy was contagious Tuesday night, as the Bucks won their Rocky River Division II sectional opener 2-0 over Vermilion.
“I was just so excited that I scored,” Kupetz said. “It was a big moment for me, especially since I’m a freshman and this was my first goal.”
With Buckeye spending the majority of the opening half on the Sailors’ end, it was only a matter of time before Vermilion broke down.
With less than 5 minutes to go in the first, Ryan Grauel sent a cross into the box. Andrew Maxwell flicked it to the back post, where a streaking Kupetz was there to tap it in and ultimately send the Bucks into a showdown with Firelands on Saturday.
While the celebration that followed gave him another career first — a yellow card — the hard work paid off.
“It was definitely worth it,” Kupetz joked. “Andrew flicked it with his back heel into the box and I just ran and poked it in. It was just instinct.”
The pressure by the Buckeye attack continued in the second half, as it continued to wear down Vermilion backs.
It gave way to an insurance goal with 25:11 left on a nifty give-and-go between Dan Oswald and Grauel. After the initial exchange, Oswald pushed the ball ahead and forced Sailors goalkeeper Colin Pawlowski (7 saves) off his line to meet Grauel, who chipped it in like 7-iron.
“I’ve been playing with Danny for years, so we just know how each other work,” said Grauel, who has 16 goals on the season. “We communicate all game and play a lot of one-twos and give-and-gos and it was there.”
The Bucks put together an efficient effort with 16 shots — nine were on frame — and dominated possession in the middle third of the field.
Buckeye’s defense put the victory on the ice, holding the Sailors to just five shots on goal — the majority of which were off restart or bombs from more than 20 yards out.
Led by sweeper Ryan Cobb and goalie Ryan Huber, the backline of Bernie Derksen, Brodie Gagne and Mitchel Boehmke kept Vermilion outside of the penalty box for most of the night by clearing dangerous through-balls and managing counterattacks.
“A lot of credit has to be given to them,” said Buckeye coach Dan Collins, whose team has won 11 of its last 12 games. “It’s a young backline with no seniors, and Ryan Cobb is playing out of this world. They’ve kept us in games with their clean sheets.
“We had a lot of energy from the start, and it took playing hard for 80 minutes.”
With the win, the Bucks get a rematch with rival Firelands, which handed Buckeye its first Patriot Athletic Conference loss since 2011 earlier this season.
They’ll meet Saturday at 4 p.m. with a district berth on the line.
“We just have to play our game and not worry about the opponent,” Grauel said. “We just have to stay relaxed and composed.
“It’s a lot a different this time. It’s win or go home, so we have that intensity and know we have to win to move on.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.