It was a bittersweet and emotional end of an era for the Grain Valley and Oak Grove boys soccer teams.
Thursday’s game could mark the end of a 10-year rivalry between two schools that have had rivalries in others sports that spanned decades.
Next season, Grain Valley will move out of the Missouri River Valley Conference to the Suburban Conference, so Grain Valley’s 2-1 win at Panther Stadium could be the last meeting between the two teams unless a non-conference game is scheduled.
This is the first year Grain Valley head coach Tyler Nichol and Zach Herzig, former Eagles assistant and current head coach for the Panthers, have faced each other and could possibly be the last.
“This is kind of like the KU-MU rivalry ending,” Herzig said. “We will definitely play them in a jamboree at the beginning of the year. We just have to let (the activities directors) do their thing. If they want to play us, we’ll play them.”
Grain Valley seniors Brandon Speigle and Drake Bray have been a part of the rivalry for four years and said they will miss it.
“It’s a tradition to play Oak Grove, they are our neighbors,” Bray said. “With our school, they are always a rival. It’s bittersweet because I am friends with a lot of those guys and Herzig, our old coach. We’ll miss (playing them).”
Added Nichol: “I’m sure we’ll come across them at some point whether it’s in a tournament or a non-conference game or whatever it is.”
The game also marked a moment of history for Oak Grove (15-9, 5-5) even in defeat. Senior forward Jacob Leamon broke the school single-season record for goals in a season as he notched his 34th with 1:58 remaining in the game on a penalty kick.
Wanting to get the goal out of the way, so Leamon negotiated with fellow senior Dalton Smith, who normally takes all of the penalty kicks, to get a crack at one near the end of the game. He deked Grain Valley goalkeeper Nate Booker by faking a shot to the left and going right with it to put himself in the Panther record book.
With it Leamon broke the mark of 33 held by his brother Zach Leamon.
“I think he thought I deserved it,” Leamon said of Smith letting him take the PK. “(Zach) honestly wanted me to break it because he wanted the Leamon name to stay in the record book. He congratulated me on tying it last night. He had a lot to say about it.
“I was content with tying it but I wanted to break it so I could brag a little bit to him.”
For Herzig, it was a special moment to see one of his seniors break the record on Senior Night.
“Leamon wanted it against Grain Valley tonight,” Herzig said. “That’s one thing we at least get to celebrate tonight. There couldn’t be a better person that gets that record. It was really big of Dalton Smith to let Jacob have that PK. That really got me. We’re all family and brothers here. Dalton cares for his brother and wanted his brother to get that record.
“I am going to miss our seniors. Hopefully we have a couple more weeks with them. That’s what I am hoping. I couldn’t ask for a better group. We had 15 freshmen come in and the seniors were their role models. It’s going to suck to lose them.”
For the Eagles, the game highlighted a solid first-year varsity campaign for Nate Booker, who took over as the team’s primary goalie after Colton Henry went down with an injury. He made several key saves, including a stop of a close-range header when Collin Doss flew in from the right side; a leaping save off a point-blank shot from Smith; and he stopped a short-range shot from Gael Perez, who attempted to put in a rebound that banged off the right post.
“I was impressed with our defense,” Booker said. “We did some drills in practice on headers and goals and I was ready for it.
“It sucks that (Henry) is out, but it’s been fun (playing goalkeeper) so far.”
Nichol has certainly been impressed with the way his sophomore has stepped into a tough spot.
“He was kind of thrust into that role,” Nichol said, and he wasn’t really expecting it. He didn’t know if Colton was going to be back or not. He’s been working and grinding and has been playing well all season. This has been an incredible year for a starting goalkeeper for a guy who wasn’t even starting at the beginning of the year.”
Booker got some support from his offense as Spiegle gave Grain Valley (11-8, 6-3) a 1-0 lead with 16.8 seconds left in the first half when he knocked in a leaping header off a corner kick from Jack Knust.
“It was exhilarating,” said Spiegle, who also plays basketball and has been working on his vertical leap so he can dunk. “It was a really good ball from Jack.”
Bray gave the Eagles their second goal in the 57th minute when he received a cross from Jake Simpson that deflected off a Oak Grove defender, but he was able to put it in right at the goalmouth.
“I saw the cross come through and it went through a small gap,” Bray said. “It had a weird spin off a deflection. I had to twist my body a little bit weird. But a goal is a goal and that’s all that matters. It wasn’t pretty, but it’s what we needed.”