Boys’ soccer beats JA in tie-breaker to decide number 1 seed

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On Thursday, February 16, the varsity soccer team played Jackson Academy for the third time this season. Now you may ask, “why is this so special?” This game was no ordinary game. Both teams squared off in the regular season and split the series 1-1. The goal differential in both of these games were equal, which sent the decision to figure out who earned the number one seed for the State tournament into a tie-breaker. This tie-breaker was based on season goal differential, which was also equal for both Prep and JA. After the MAIS board had a meeting to decide what the next course of action was, they made the decision to have a 60 minute playoff game at a neutral site. If after 60 minutes the game is tied, a penalty kick competition would ensue.

Although this was not a playoff game or championship game, both teams had the mindset that this game was do or die. This game would decide if the 14 seniors for JA or the 7 seniors for Prep would finish their high school career playing on their home field or on their rivals field.

Like in both the previous games, tensions were high and tempers could flare at any moment. As both teams warmed up, it felt like the major bump in the road from reaching your season goal was the group on the other end of the field.

With three minutes until kickoff and AC DC’s Thunderstruck playing in the background, Prep soccer coach Jon Marcus Duncan stressed to his players to “stay composed, play quick, focus on the task ahead of you and seize the opportunity that you have tonight.” The energy in the Belhaven Bowl on this chilly night was electrifying to say the least.

The first minutes were like a normal soccer game with both teams playing keep away and attacking, but not afraid to slow down and start over with their attack. After 10 minutes the momentum was definitely in JA’s favor and would capitalize on this momentum by driving a cross into the back of the net taking a 1-0 lead.

It was easy to see the look of disappointment on the face of all the Prep players when that first goal went in. While there was uncertainty, the phrase, “they scored too early” was uttered multiple times on the Prep sidelines. The next 20 minutes went by with Prep dominating play, but having nothing to show for it. At the half, it was 1-0 JA and Prep had zero shots on goal.

This was something that Coach Duncan emphasized at halftime. He used Wayne Gretzky’s legendary quote, “You will miss 100% of the shots you never take.” It was not like Prep never made it into the attacking third. They had multiple chances to put a shot on goal, but everyone believed they had to have a perfect shot. With JA’s physicality, the longer each player held onto the ball, the more likely it was going to be taken away.

The first 20 minutes of the second half were dominated by Prep. With have 5 shots on goal, there was a feeling that one had to score for Prep. Throughout the season, when the game was on the line and a big play needed to be made, the combination of Tate Fowler and Brent Hall never failed. It was a throw from the Prep bench in the attacking third. Jake Maloney winds up to hurl the ball into the top of the box. All the players make their runs towards goal, but Tate Fowler peels off and receives a short throw. He beats his man with speed and crosses a low driven ball to Brent Hall’s feet. With three men on him, Brent uses the outside of his foot to flick the ball into the back of the net. To say that every Prep player and fan was hyped is an understatement. The Prep bench was given a sideline warning for celebrating on the field after that goal.

In soccer, there are no plays to run and no one goal is alike another. In this case, Prep’s second goal was almost identical to the first. Jake Maloney received a throw in and took off for the corner of the field. He made a high, lofty cross to the back post. After grazing a JA defender, none other than Brent Hall was there to finish a marvelous goal to take the lead 2-1.

At this point, it was a defensive game for Prep. Jacob Crawley, Hunter Patterson, Joseph Upton and John Nix Arledge cleared the ball at any moment it entered the defensive area. With 2 minutes left, JA seemed to shoot from everywhere. Walker Benner for JA received the ball off a Prep defensiveclear and ripped a shot from 30 yards out. From the bench it was easy to tell that this could easily be a goal, but goalkeeper Reed Peets made an outstanding save that just tipped it wide.

The center referee blew his whistle to sound the end of the game and coach Duncan was already at half field celebrating. It was an exciting game to watch and very competitive.

Prep will play Copiah on Thursday in the first round of the State championship. The championship game will be on Saturday, February 25th. Prep continues to dominate to compete in the championship and play for their 7th State championship in a row.