WINFIELD - After graduating five senior starters, four of the All-State variety, Winfield coach Mike Foster figured the early season would be a learning experience at times.
On Tuesday, he learned a lot about his team, primarily how hard it will fight with its back to the wall.
Clinging to a one-goal lead, down a man over the last 14:59 and with momentum squarely against them, the Generals were able to thwart several runs from short-handed Huntington and claimed a 2-1 home win to improve to 5-0 on the season.
Braxton Vanscoy scored a pair of goals inside the first 14:30 of the first half to give the Generals a 2-0 lead. Winfield had its way early not only on the scoreboard, but in terms of possession as well.
Huntington, despite playing without four starters because of injuries, rallied and from there on turned the tide, leaving Winfield to dig deep to hang on to its unbeaten record.
"We're improving," Foster said. "That's probably the best team we've played yet. We're playing better and better teams as we go and Scott will be a big game on Thursday. A win is a win.
"They were playing with their backs against the wall."
From about the 20-minute mark of the first half on, the Highlanders (2-4-1) slowly began to turn the game, linking passes and maintaining possession much more effectively. After a few close calls, Foster Jones drew Huntington to within one with 18:42 on an assist from Andrew Brewster.
With momentum already slipping away, Winfield's Noah Moss was hit with a red card with 14:59 remaining after exchanging some words with a Highlanders player, leaving the Generals to play 10 vs. 11 the rest of the way.
With a one-goal advantage, senior goalkeeper Nathan Lanham and the defense were put squarely in the crosshairs of the pressing Highlanders and he and the Generals' defensive backfield were able to rise to the challenge.
"It was very rough but we played through," Lanham said. "I think we worked well as a team. We need to work with communication and stuff, but overall I think we had a good game."
Lanham needed to make only two saves to ice the game for the Generals, but the real work was done in midfield and in among the defenders as the Highlanders never could quite get a clean look despite some extremely close calls.
"They got very aggressive with us and started pressing really hard and they did control the game," Foster said. "We came out with a win, but it was pretty tight."
"That red card really hurt and that will be a starter out for two games, but they need to learn to play with some composure."
Caleb Hawks had a chance to make the score 3-0 with 11:15 before the half as he was awarded a penalty kick after a foul in the box. But Dylan Shultz made one of his nine saves to keep the Highlanders in it.
Shultz's effort was one of several that drew praise from coach Blaine Stoll as Winfield's athleticism and speed on the attack provides a constant scoring threat.
"I felt with the new lineup the boys struggled early, gave up a couple goals, but we made adjustments and I felt like for the remaining 60 minutes of the game we battled and started coming back," Stoll said. "They played well and got two goals on us early, but I was proud of my boys for fixing the things we needed to fix in the first 20 minutes. Our boys were trying to play too direct - magical through balls - and it just doesn't work. You have to play to feet and keep the ball and once we did that I thought things started to change in the game."
Stoll was given a yellow card with 12:55 left in the match after exchanging words with an official about a possible missed call. Just after Moss' red card, a Huntington forward made a run into the box and was contacted by Lanham, however no penalty kick was awarded.
The Generals outshot Huntington 12-5 for the game but the Highlanders held that advantage 5-4 in the second half. Jackson Zulauf and William Whaley each had an assist for the Generals.