Nick Stack isn’t one of the Olentangy Liberty boys soccer team’s household names.
The senior came up huge when his name was called Wednesday night, though, coming off the bench to deposit a key insurance goal and lift the Patriots to a 2-0 Division I regional semifinal win over Pickerington North at Dublin Jerome High School.
After squiring out of a scrum near midfield, the ball found Stack streaking down the left sideline. He took care of the rest, rocketing a shot inside the far post just before Cory Pulles — North’s hard-charging keeper — could get to him. The goal made it 2-0 with 11:03 to play.
“I took a good touch and was able to place it because the goalie was a little out of position,” Stack said. “After that, I knew my teammates would be there to celebrate with me and finish the game out.”
And that’s exactly what the Patriots did. North, which had more than a few close calls at the other end just minutes before, couldn’t respond after that.
“They were pressuring pretty hard,” Stack said, “but, after that goal they let down a lot. You could tell that was a hit to their confidence.”
The goal was just what Liberty needed at just the right time.
With less than 20 minutes to go, North tried to push more numbers forward and get a bit more pressure on Liberty’s back line … and it was working.
The Panthers earned a free kick from about 20 yards out with 18 minutes to go — a play which resulted in a point-black shot off the foot of Cameron Williams deep in the box. Liberty keeper Theran Handlon was in perfect position, though, with his diving save preserving his team’s 1-0 lead.
North got another great chance a minute later. Jonathan Cunningham got a head on a cross from Will Harr, but it sailed just over the crossbar.
It was then, just a few minutes later, Stack sealed it at the other end.
Liberty played from in front pretty much the entire game, taking an early lead with a goal from Jaggar Brooker.
Patriot coach Marc D’Auteuil said the fast start was huge.
“I think our goal was to kinda put them in an uncomfortable situation,” he said. “They’re a really good team, we knew that, but you look at their schedule and it probably wasn’t quite where it should have been. We knew they hadn’t been challenged much this year and our goal was to get on the board first.
“We knew this would be a gut-check game and we’d have to grind it out. I’m proud of our kids.”
Next up, Liberty will play St. Charles — a team it beat 2-0 earlier this season in Powell — in Saturday’s regional final.
“We played St. Charles … man, it seems like forever ago,” D’Auteuil said. “Really strong team, really well coached. They have a couple really strong players … it will be a similar type of game. From our perspective, we just need to get our legs back get healthy.”