By David Rogers. BOONE, N.C. — Athletic competitions are not decided until you cross the finish line — or every second has ticked off the clock.
Bonus photos at bottom
That was clearly evident in Appalachian FC’s thrilling, come-from-behind, 3-1, soccer win over the Georgia Storm on May 20, before an enthusiastic crowd at Ted Mackeroll Soccer Stadium.
The two National Premier Soccer League rivals battled back and forth to a 0-0 deadlock for most of the match until, in the 85th minute, Georgia Storm attacker Akinni James found the back of the net to thrust the visitors into a 1-0 lead with little time remaining.
A desperate Appalachian team was repeatedly turned away by Storm goalkeeper Jose Palacios until, suddenly, there was an opening in the 88th minute and Nabil Homssa punched in App FC’s first goal, along the ground on the left side to tie the game. Jeremiah Luoma was credited with the assist.
When the clock ticked to 90 minutes, marking the end of what would normally be regulation time, that is the way the battle stood, deadlocked at 1-1. But there were at least four minutes of stoppage time being added by the referee and Appalachian FC had momentum, heartened by the late goal and invigorated by an energized home crowd.
Barely two minutes into the extended play, Appalachian’s attacker Michael Eberle found himself with the ball some 10 yards outside the left goalpost and roughly seven yards inside the field of play. He sent the ball whizzing across the face of the goal, past the goalkeeper where it was met, perfectly timed, by the foot of defender Alex Render, who had moved up into the fray just outside the right post. In a word, Render pummeled the ball past Palacios, who had little or no chance to react before Render’s rocket nearly tore a hole in the back of the net.
Now 2-1, Georgia Storm was looking to tie before the end of the added stoppage time. They sent everyone into attack mode, including Palacios the goalkeeper, storming (to coin a phrase) the Appalachian half of the field. Mayhem ensued, the Storm threatening, until suddenly an Appalachian FC defender sent a clearing kick over the heads of everyone, down the left sideline. The speedy Luoma caught up with the ball, pushed it ahead a couple of times with desperate Georgia players bearing down on him from behind. Then Luoma calmy sent the ball forcefully along the ground and into the open net for the Squatchy-led crew’s third and final goal.
Bedlam among the already boisterous crowd ensued and got louder as the referee blew his whistle for full time, just moments later.
“For us, this was a bit more back to basics,” said Appalachian FC head coach Dale Parker afterwards, in front of grandstands where the crowd seemed reluctant to leave. “It was working hard, outrunning them and putting the ball in dangerous areas, hoping our top players could score goals if they had chances. For a long period that wasn’t the case. I thought the other side defended pretty well and they got what they came for by scoring that late goal. With five minutes to go there was a sense of doom and gloom, but what we have done this week in training is build an attitude and a team character of fight and desire. That got us back in the game and then with those two more in stoppage time, it was icing on the cake.
“This was a true team win,” Parker added. “There wasn’t necessarily one standout player, but a true collective effort. We stuck in there and worked hard. We had too many errors in the first half that cost us the flow of the game. In the second half, Jeremiah Luoma gave us the lift we needed. Credit to the guys who came off the and got massively involved. We have not really had that in the past but we had it tonight.
“It is difficult to score goals in soccer,” Parker concluded by putting the game in perspective. “You have 22 guys on the field and 11 of them are trying to stop you.”