Cougars stand tall in title showdown
MCDONOUGH – They remembered the feeling.
One year ago, the Lafayette Christian School Cougars played for a state soccer championship, and they were beaten by King’s Academy.
Many of those same players were on the field on Saturday afternoon as Lafayette Christian took on Westminster Christian School in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association championship game, and they were determined to have a happier ending, to be the ones celebrating when the clock struck zero.
They made it happen.
In a thrilling game, Daniel Lee scored as time expired in the first five-minute overtime period, and the Cougars made that lead stand up and they held on for a 3-2 victory.
“At the beginning of the season, this was our goal,” said goal keeper Logan Wright, who had an outstanding game. “The first practice, the coach went and said, this is our goal, this is what we are going for, because we made it so far last year. As the season went on, we discovered this is our passion. This is what we want. This is what we live for. This is why we play the sport.”
Lafayette Christian surged to a 2-0 lead in the first half on goals by Morgan Channell and Clay Kelly, but a determined Westminster team fought back to pull even midway through the second half.
It remained a 2-2 game through the rest of regulation, and for most of the first overtime period.
With moments remaining, the ball was loose in front of the Westminster goal, and Lee got his foot on it and kicked it into the back of the net as time expired.
There was another five-minute overtime period to play, so the Cougars still had some work to do, but they were able to hang on, and when the clock struck zero, the celebration was on.
“They went out and did it,” head coach Shannon Powell said. “They played until the end. From practice one, all the way to now, we’ve been looking at the state championship, always telling them we’re going back, and we’re going to be victorious this time.”
The win capped what has been a spectacular six months for Lafayette Christian.
In November, the football team won a state championship, and the boys’ basketball team had a perfect season and won a state title a few months later.
Now the soccer team has made it a trifecta, and there’ll be another championship trophy to display at the school.
Powell took over as the boys’ coach in 2013, so he has been with most of the current seniors for four years.
In addition to Channell, the other seniors on the team are Kelly, Ryan Kinsey, Sam Marshall and Levi McCurry.
Powell has watched those players help the program grow and thrive, and now they get to exit the high-school stage as champions.
Marshall and Kelly were both members of the football, basketball and soccer teams, so they’ll each have three championship rings.
“It’s very special,” Powell said. “I started four years ago with these guys. I’ve been coaching the girls for a while. The guys, it was four years ago, and we’ve won a region championship every year. We went to the state finals last year and won it this year.”
The Cougars dominated the early portion of Saturday’s game, and they’d had a handful of legitimate scoring chances before Channell collected a rebound and powered the ball into the net with 20:41 left in the first half.
Less than a minuter later, the Cougars were up by two goals.
With 19:46 remaining in the half, Westminster was called for a penalty in the box, and Kelly made the ensuing penalty kick to put Lafayette Christian on top 2-0.
Westminster answered a short time later, with Josh Russell scoring with 18:13 left in the half, and it was a 2-1 game.
Westminster started to control things from there, but Wright made some terrific saves to keep his team on top, and Lafayette Christian took a 2-1 lead into the break.
Westminster notched the equalizing goal with 20:35 to play in regulation on a goal by Jack Dobson, and it was a brand-new game.
Neither team scored again in regulation, so it was on to overtime, with the teams playing two five-minute periods.
In the first overtime, freshman John Turton nearly gave the Cougars the lead when, off of a throw-in, he headed the ball off of the crossbar.
Had the ball been two inches lower, it would have been a goal.
The Cougars kept attacking, kept controlling the action, and Lee’s goal at the close of the first overtime gave them the lead once again.
“It was very satisfying,” McCurry said of Lee’s goal. “I was just screaming my head off at that point.”
Lafayette Christian’s defense didn’t allow Westminster to sniff the goal in the second overtime period, and that was that.
“It means a whole lot,” McCurry said. “We’ve worked very hard for the last couple of months running, and working on ball control and everything. It’s big for us. And it’s big for the school, too.”
OF NOTE: For more photos from Saturday’s game, check out facebook.com/LDNsports
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports