Trailing 1-nil midway through the first half Thursday night at Burke-Toney Stadium, it appeared West High got the break they’d been working for.
A ball into the box was headed out by a Farragut defender, but the clearance went straight to West senior attacker Megan Horner who one-timed the ball out of the air and bounced it toward the Farragut goal.
Lady Admiral keeper Maddie Strnad couldn’t corral the shot, but knocked it back, leaving it bouncing dangerously in front of the goal mouth. West’s Chelsey Lambert fought her way through the writhing humanity of defenders and teammates desperately trying to get to the ball and poked it into the goal for the apparent equalizer.
The euphoria was short-lived however as a linesman raised flag indicated an offside call on the play. No goal.
The penalty proved to be a major turning point in the match as West gave up a pair of second half goals and fell for the first time this season, 3-nil.
“A lot of respect,” said West coach Jennifer Murphy, “it’s Farragut. And along with that name comes good sports teams.”
The difference in perspective was evident from the outset Thursday night at Burke-Toney Stadium.
If this was the biggest soccer match of the regular season for West, it did appear anyone had told Farragut, which has for decades set the gold standard for East Tennessee prep soccer. The Lady Admirals Farragut, were clinical, unemotional and technically sound.
They calmly moved the ball out of trouble even as West had the better attacks through the first minutes. The Lady Admirals only really seemed to show emotion as the physical match wore on and it became evident that the referee crew was content, for the most part, to let the teams play.
On the other side, West High, pumped with senior night emotion, undefeated and mostly unchallenged going into their final regular season match, played with emotion but often seemed to be stuck reacting to the Lady Admirals instead of dictating play as they normally do.
It was clear the game meant something extra to the Lady Trojans, many of whom had written “I Believe” on the inside of their forearm and seemed intent to prove they belonged with the best programs in East Tennessee.
“The first five minutes I don’t think they expected what we were about,” Murphy said. “Honestly, our strength of schedule isn’t very tough and I wouldn’t have walked in here giving us a ton of respect either, if I didn’t know us.’
Farragut, however, seemed nonplussed. They made smart passes out of the backfield, didn’t panic under pressure and bided their time, waiting for the proper opportunity to present itself.
The opportunity arose as they built a two-woman attack off a West High corner. West had pushed all but two defenders forward into the attack in an attempt to get the early goal, but a solid clearance sent Emma Jeter and Katie Cloud working a two-woman counter attack.
The duo executed perfectly, sending the ball into open space where the other could chase it down and send it back. They raced up the pitch, making quick work of the two West defenders in their path.
West keeper Erin Murphy decided to charge early and challenged Cloud near the top of the box. The keeper, however, could not dispossess the attacker who niftily side-stepped the challenge and calmly slotted the ball home for the lead.
West reacted fairly well to the 13th minute goal, working for the quick equalizer.
That nearly came on the Lambert goal which was called off, changing the tenor of the match.
“It that goal hadn’t been offsides, or whatever they called it in the first half, it would have been 1-1 and I think the outcome would have been different,” Murphy said.
As it was, the Lady Trojans were playing on the razor’s edge through the rest of the first half. Without an equalizer, another attack from Farragut could essentially put the game out of reach.
Several Lady Trojans played accordingly. Both McGarels, sophomore midfielder Abigael and her senior sister Erin, played hard, disrupting Farragut attacks and making life tough in general for the Lady Admirals.
Freshman Sydney Newsome also stood out for her willingness to stick her nose into traffic and fight in a physical match.
Erin McGarel’s cohorts in the back, Connar Capps, Allyson Davenport and Kaylyn Gair fought hard under talented and tactical pressure from the Admirals attack as well.
The emotions which had been fueling the Lady Trojans seemed to wane in the final minutes of the first half, but through E. McGarel’s leadership and a couple of lucky bounces, the Trojans managed to keep the deficit at 1-nil at the half.
Once they got into the flow of the match, the Farragut backline did a good job of marking the Trojans and keeping the attackers off balance and forcing them off their usual lines of attack.
West had one last great chance to equalized in the 50th minute when E. McGarel set up for a direct kick from about 30 yards out. Though going straight at the goal seemed like a bold plan with a talented Strnad in the net, McGarel bended a well-struck blast for the far upper 90. The shot bit just a little too hard and was just off the frame.
Eight minutes later, Farragut put the match out of reach when Jeter picked up her second assist of the night. She fed the ball to Katie Beuerlein who drove it home.
Farragut tacked on one last goal as Beuerlein returned the favor, feeding the ball to Jeter who scored it past Murphy for the final tally.
In the grand scheme of things, the loss means very little for West who begins their playoff run Monday hosting Cherokee at Frank Lorino Park. Murphy plans to use the loss as motivation moving forward.
“I’m thankful for this loss because we have a taste in our mouth that we never want to taste again,” she said. “It’s always the athletic curse to go into any postseason, win or go home situation, undefeated. You want to taste defeat before it really means something and ends your season. We’re going to learn a lot tonight, more from a loss than we ever would from a win.”
Those are lessons Murphy hopes to be able to apply during the playoffs, maybe even in a substate matchup with a certain team from the Knoxville area.
“What I know is this ain’t the last time we see Farragut this year,” she said.
-By John Gullion, Tribune Managing Editor