The gloomy pall that hung over Northwestern postgame said more than any of the words uttered possibly could.
The Trojans were five minutes from the third round of the Class AAAA girls soccer playoffs when visitors T.L. Hanna scored twice in a furious finale to pull off the 2-1 shocker. Lauren Watts had given Northwestern (16-6) the lead in the first half, but the Yellow Jackets (15-3-2) piled on the pressure in the second half and finally broke through when Chelsea Drennan curled in a free kick with five minutes left to tie the match.
Their confidence surging against a tiring Trojan rearguard, T.L. Hanna, the defending state champs, pushed on and got the winner when Meredith Parkers shot from the right wing flew into the opposite corner of the goal with two minutes left for what was the winner.
I kept thinking, were getting closer, were getting closer. Weve got to put one of these in, said Hanna coach Katelyn Davis, as her players continued to scream and hug behind her. The first one went in, then that second one... it was amazing.
Parker, who scored Hannas winner in its 1-0 first round victory over Dorman on Monday, maintained her game-winner was not a cross.
Shot, Parker confirmed with a laugh. I was in the 18 so I thought I might as well shoot it.
Regardless of the semantics, it was a gut punch for the Trojans, who battled so fiercely the entire 80 minutes. They played an excellent first half, but couldnt get a release from the Yellow Jackets unrelenting second half pressure. The weight finally broke them in the last five minutes.
I thought we had it sorted out, said Northwestern coach Cesar Robles. We were able to keep the play in front of us and stay organized defensively. Just towards the end, one too many fouls, especially the one at the top of the box, and thats the one that came back to hurt us.
Losing centerback Madison Gardner to strep throat should have hindered the Trojans defensive organization, but Helena Moore moved into Gardners spot at the back and marshaled Northwesterns backline masterfully for most of the game, cleaning up any sign of trouble at the first chance. Its no coincidence that Hanna had to score both goals from outside of the 18-yard box.
That the visitors had to come from behind was a testament to Northwesterns near-perfect first half. The Trojans soaked up the Yellow Jackets attacks, then sprung on the counter attack like a released jack-in-the-box. One such break put them in front 1-0.
Midway through the first half, Whitney Hunt cleared a corner for the Trojans, finding striker Cara Pennington. She held the ball up just long enough before slipping it back to Hunt, who burst into yards of space near midfield. The sophomore took several unimpeded touches before serving a perfectly weighted ball into Watts run, and the senior outpaced the Hanna backline before coolly driving the ball into the left corner for a beautifully-worked opener.
In one of the games juicy subplots, Northwestern junior midfielder Madeline Ramsey, an LSU signee who will graduate early next December, and Drennan, a South Carolina signee, scrapped the entire game. Ramsey appeared to get the best of the senior playmaker for much of the match with her no nonsense tackling.
Ramsey played great, Davis said. We knew about her coming in.
But Drennan stamped her class on the game late. When her teammate was fouled just outside the box on the left wing, the defending South Carolina player of the year stepped up and curled the ball over Rachel Gregorys dive for a stunning equalizer.
Blood was in the water and the defending champs pressed for the winner. With about two minutes left, Parker got the ball on the right wing and floated a seemingly innocuous ball toward the goal. Perhaps everyone but her was stunned when the ball nestled in the far corner.
It was a cruel turn for the Trojan girls, who had their best season in program history.
The nine years that Ive been here, never have we been top-10, out-and-out region champions, said Robles. And just the respect throughout the state for the program, like I told the seniors, is a testament to their work and dedication.
The Northwestern players lying forlornly in the corner of the field may not have heard Robles words through panting sobs. But, Robles added, The legacy theyre leaving behind is definitely huge.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T