John Kerr knew the day would come.
In many ways, the Maryville High School soccer coach was counting on it.
Alcoa’s Sam Thompson rifled home a far-post shot from 22 yards midway through the second half, and the Tornadoes went on to extract a 1-1 tie from their rivals in the championship game of the Blount County Soccer Tournament on Sunday at John Sevier.
The draw marked the first time Alcoa (3-1-1) had left the field with anything other than a loss to the Rebels (3-0-1), who’d drawn first blood on a first-half goal from David Lethco.
“Parity’s here in the county,” Kerr said.
For the coach who all but founded high school soccer in Blount County, the crisply-played match in front of a sizeable crowd was welcome.
“I thought Alcoa played really, really well,” Kerr said. “It’s good to see there’s competition here in the county.”
It was also a wake-up call for the Rebels.
“The biggest thing I’m upset about is lack of composure,” Kerr said.
The Class AAA Rebels looked in control for a half. The AA Tornadoes went without a shot on goal the first 40 minutes. Maryville keeper Daniel Weatherbee’s net was seldom threatened. The midfield quartet of Ridge Carter, Graham Gilley, Oscar Sanchez and Watson Hartsoe never looked better.
Carter’s dipsy-do run through the left side of the Tornado penalty beat three defenders, leaving Lethco unattended at the right post. The freshman midfielder fired true to the far post for a 1-0 Maryville lead at the half.
The Rebels came up short on two additional opportunities, including a point-blank shot from in front that sailed over the crossbar.
Regrouping at halftime, the Tornadoes tore back.
“Maryville needs to finish its opportunities,” Carter said. “If you don’t finish, that puts your defense on its heels.”
Alcoa frontrunners Derrick Brodus and Ulyesses Ayala began breaking out of failed Maryville scoring attempts, beating the Rebels’ offside trap. Thompson’s tireless work rate in midfield soon had Alcoa dictating play. On the outside, freshman Harrison Powell proved to be a big plus shutting down Rebel runs down the flanks.
“We just tried to come out fired up,” Thompson said.
Goalkeeper Adrian Womac soon gave the Tornadoes the lift they needed most with a diving save to hold the deficit at one.
“He came up huge,” Alcoa coach Tom Gorman said. “They (the Rebels) were feeling good about themselves, and Adrian came up with the finger-tip save off the ground.”
A more aggressive Alcoa soon had the Rebels on the defensive. Where the Rebels had once been super sharp with their passing, they became sloppy. Twelve minutes from time, Thompson made them pay, chesting down a failed clearance from a defender just off the Maryville penalty area. Touching up, Thompson laced his waist-high shot between three defenders — one of them obscuring Weatherbee’s vision — to tie the match.
“They were sitting back and he (Weatherbee) was in the center of the goal,” Thompson said.
His sightline blocked, Weatherbee never saw the blast, the Rebel netminder stood flatfooted as it sailed past.
“I don’t think the keeper ever saw it,” Gorman said. “He put it side netting, and it was a rip.”
The Tornadoes and Rebels set the stage for the championship tilt with convincing wins over William Blount’s Governors and Heritage’s Mountaineers on Thursday and Friday.
The Governors, highlighted by the eye-catching play of left-footer Eric Lusinger in midfield, fell behind early to the Rebels in the tournament opener Thursday at Alcoa’s Goddard Field. Maryville was rolling by halftime, going on to take the match at 4-0. David Large, Josh Brantley, Hartsoe and Sanchez had the goals for the Rebels.
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Collecting itself after the break, William Blount held Maryville to a goal in half two. Governor goalkeeper Thomas Carter, the score withstanding, had a strong game between the posts. The Rebels simply poured through the midfield to put too many attackers at his goal, limiting his chances to come up with the stop.
The Tornadoes overwhelmed the Mountaineers in similar fashion in Thursday’s nightcap, but then Heritage was down three starters at kickoff, including its goalkeeper (injury) and top defender (prior commitment).
Despite being undermanned, the Mountaineers, with junior Ivan Carrasco creating much of the play, spread the field and attacked with an entertaining, wide-open style. Alcoa’s counterattacks produced goals in rapid succession, though, and the match finished in a 9-0 victory.
Thompson and Brodus buried a pair of goals, with Andrew Mitchell, Roberto Castro, Matt Franklin and John Duggan and Ayala completing the scoresheet.
Friday would see similar results. The Rebels belted home a dozen goals in a 12-0 blanking of the Mountaineers. Sanchez and Large both belted home a pair of goals. Roderick Blevins, Austin Pugh, Paris Wade, Kory Yarlett, Teddy Harre, Gilley, Hartsoe and Lethco each found the Heritage net for a goal apiece.
Following suit, the Tornadoes got three goals from Mitchell in storming by the Governors, 5-0, heightening anticipation for the final day. Brodus and Powell also had goals for Alcoa.
Goddard Field, also home to Alcoa’s football Tornadoes, could take no more after Saturday’s soaking. Gorman and Kerr hastily arranged to move the match to John Sevier, complete with its regulation, table-flat surface. The Mountaineers and Governors declined to meet Sunday, hoping to reschedule at a later date.
All things considered, the tournament was a success, Gorman said.
“I think it’s going to get better and better,” he said.
The Tornadoes are taking on the toughest schedule — by far — in school history this season. Defending Class AAA champion Farragut plays host to Alcoa early next month. AAA powerhouse Oak Ridge visits later in the season. The Tornadoes opened the season against three-time AAA champion Bearden, the Bulldogs dealing Alcoa a stinging, 8-0 loss.
The Bearden romp made Sunday’s result all the more satisfying, Gorman said.
“I don’t like ties, but I’ll take it,” he said, “considering who we were playing.”