You knew Sam Thompson wasn’t going to miss.
Not this shot.
Not what this could mean.
The Alcoa High School senior finished off a breakaway with flick past the goalkeeper from just inside the penalty area, and the Tornadoes upset defending state champion Catholic, 3-2, in sudden death overtime in a Region 2-A/AA semifinal Tuesday night at Goddard Field.
“I really don’t know how to describe it,” Alcoa coach Tom Gorman said. “The credit goes to those kids who put their trust in us.”
Thompson’s golden goal, coming minutes before the match would be sent to penalty kicks, lifted Alcoa (15-4-1) into the region championship game for the first time in school history. The Tornadoes host Christian Academy of Knoxville in the region title game tonight at 7, with both teams advancing to Saturday’s sectional round.
The Irish, the defending Class A/AA state champions, finish the season 13-3-3.
It took 20 years for the Tornadoes to reach the region championship game. It was perhaps only fitting the final step would prove a real doozy.
After a scoreless half, junior Derrick Brodus banged home a pair of goals for Alcoa, the first of which, a controversial strike after a collision with the Irish goalkeeper, likely should have been disallowed.
After the Irish equalized, junior Andrew Mitchell slotted a ball down the center that Brodus ran onto and buried to the far post for a 2-1 Tornado lead with less than two minutes remaining.
“I saw the goalkeeper and he was hesitating to come out,” Brodus said. “Once I saw that, the back post was open.”
A joyous Alcoa sideline erupted in celebration. Less than a half minute from full time, Catholic pulled even on a penalty kick, knocking home a rebound after Tornado goalkeeper Adrian Womac had parried the initial boot from the spot.
Tornado junior Dusty McClanahan was whistled for the foul in the Alcoa penalty area, the infraction coming not long after the Alcoa defender had stepped in to clear a loose ball off the goal line to prevent a sure goal. After the successful Irish penalty strike, McClanahan said Gorman knew just what to say.
“When they called that penalty kick on me, I almost broke down,” McClanahan said. “He (Gorman) said, ‘Ten minutes, guys, and it’s yours.’”
When overtime began, a raucous Alcoa student section broke into song, serenading the Tornadoes with a constant refrain of “Oh, baby, you . . . got what I need …”
With the match threatening to end on kicks, Thompson gave it to them.
Felled in a midfield scrum that brought Brodus and three Irish defenders down with him, Thompson was first to his feet just past the halfway circle. Just inside the penalty area, his shot to the far, right post past a sprawling Irish goalkeeper never looked in doubt.
“When I picked my head up, there was no one in front of me except the goalkeeper,” Thompson said. “I didn’t feel comfortable putting it on the ground, so I just chipped.”
For former Tornado coaches Ken Brown and Larry Fowler, Tuesday was almost too sweet for words.
“Just to see what Tom has been able to achieve, what our kids have been able to achieve, the support, we’re really proud,” Brown said. “It’s so much fun to see what they’ve done.”
“There’s no way to describe it,” Fowler said.
Brown took over the program five years after its founding in 1989, quickly recruiting Fowler, a long-time coach at Parks and Rec, to help with instruction.
Fowler carried the program forward to Gorman, who took the reins six years ago. Gorman, who’d played his high school soccer at state power Oak Ridge, could take a class of talented, soon-arriving freshmen places he simply couldn’t, Fowler said at the time. With Fowler staying on as his assistant, Gorman began scheduling tougher and tougher competition for the Tornadoes, culminating in a brutal, late-season stretch this spring that included matches with arch-rival Maryville, Oak Ridge and multi-state champions Farragut and Bearden, Class AAA schools all. The Maryville/Farragut/Bearden gauntlet was run the week prior to the district tournament.
The Tornadoes lost all four, but the results - Oak Ridge, 1-0, Maryville, 3-1, Farragut, 4-1, and Bearden, 1-0 - were telling Gorman all he needed to know. The Tornadoes were no longer intimidated by a skilled Catholic club on Tuesday. Through the end of regulation and two overtime sessions, Gorman said he continued to remind the Tornadoes just how far they’d come.
“I said, ‘You’re frustrated and you’re upset and you want to blame it on the ref,’” he said. “We just said, ‘Just think how sweet it is going to be when you pull out the win.’”
And, when the moment arrived, you knew Thompson wasn’t going miss.
“Not Sam,” Gorman said. “He’s been clutch for four years now.”