By Rick Atkinson

For the Anna-Melissa Tribune

CELINA – The Celina Bobcats rallied from an early 1-0 deficit to top Melissa, 2-1, in District 9-4A soccer action Feb. 14 at Bobcat Field.

Luke Hansen’s goal off a Yobani Paulin free kick had given the Cards the lead seven minutes into the match but that would be it for Melissa scoring. Celina tied it before the break, then netted the go-ahead goal midway through the second period.

Desperately working for the equalizer as time ticked below 11 minutes left to play, Melissa’s Canyon Powers appeared to get it, burying a ball in the net that had bounced off Celina’s goalkeeper. As Cardinal fans erupted in cheers and looked for “Home 2 - Guests 2” to appear on the scoreboard, the goal was disallowed on an offsides call.

Melissa head coach Kelley Pitzer protested loudly as play resumed, but to no avail.

“We did [tie it],” he said later. “The referee called it back and said it wasn’t a goal because – I’m not sure. I honestly don’t understand what he said. He said a player was offsides. … He couldn’t have been offsides – because the goalkeeper touched the ball and put it back into play. It should be a tie. So it’s a tough loss. … We’ve got Gainesville on Monday. We’ll train tomorrow and we’ll be ready.”

Said Celina head coach Steve Nichols, “Tonight, with the boys, it was heart and effort. Anytime we play Melissa, it’s going to be a battle – a physical battle, even a mental battle. Sometimes when it’s a heated rivalry like that, you get into little scraps that can turn negative. I thought teams did a good job of keeping their heads when it could have gotten ugly. … Our ability to win 50-50 balls and to stay organized in the back was key tonight. It wasn’t real pretty.”

With the result, Melissa dropped to 0-2 in district play while the Bobcats improved to 2-0.

This is the second year for Celina to field a boys’ soccer team. In their 2019 inaugural season, the Bobcats advanced in the playoffs to the regional tournament.