John Kerr didn’t have to be asked. It was written all over his face.
“Twenty-five years,” the former Maryville High School soccer coach said. “Twenty-five years I’ve been waiting for this night.”
Senior David Lethco delivered a virtuoso performance that saw the Maryville student section formally knight him “Sir David” in ceremonies at midfield after the match, and the Rebels ended a 25-year winless streak to Farragut that dates back to the founding of the program with a 6-0 shutout of the Admirals on Tuesday night.
Lethco put three goals by the Farragut keeper, the second, an 18-yard blast from the right side of the penalty area to the far post, just about as awesome as it gets. Seniors Kyle Snyder and Josh Maner and junior Caleb Lucas also added goals as No. 1-ranked Maryville, leading 3-0 after 40 minutes, counterattacked the Admirals in the second half.
Lethco set up the Manor goal with a dazzling, half-field dash to the edge of the 18 with time waning.
“It means a lot,” said Lethco of the landmark win. “It’s not just for us. It’s for all those guys who never had the chance.”
Afterward the Rebel standout was summoned to midfield by a sizable contingent of Maryville students who’d made the trip. There, in a loud voice, his fellow students ringing the proceedings, senior Nathan Owen christened Lethco a member of the order.
“David Lethco once wrestled a bear with his bare hands!” Owen told the assemblage. “He once went to Alaska and lived with wolves just so he could learn teamwork!”
However he came by it, Lethco and the Rebels (11-1) were never better at putting it to use, Maryville coach Steve Feather said, especially in the defensive third once the lead was three. It’s an approach the second-year skipper said he learned from his mentor, Kerr, who founded the Maryville program in 1987 and whose son, Andy, is now Feather’s assistant.
“If you want to start talking about defense, that’s his (John Kerr’s) philosophy,” Feather said. “When I came to Maryville, I said, ‘Hey, let’s build the team around the middle of the field.’”
Maryville, now 1-26-1 all time against the Admirals, all but wrapped it up as the halftime horn sounded. Senior Henry Hartsoe stormed out of his goal to make a sliding save at the feet of an Admiral who’d escaped on a breakaway. The stop had far-reaching implications when play resumed.
Forced to send players forward in greater and greater numbers, the Admirals were caught cold when the Rebels counterattacked. Maryville’s back line defenders of Jackson Fleer, Cole Hood, Marc Fernandez and Jamey Carmichael allowed Farragut only a handful of clean looks at Hartsoe’s goal. Fleer distinguished himself with a series of sure-footed send-backs when the Admirals began trying to beat the Maryville defense over the top. Hood was flawless at left back.
“We were really focused on the bus ride over here,” Hood said.
Feather said John Kerr ensured he was like-minded with a visit to the former’s classroom at the high school early Tuesday.
“He said, ‘I can’t wait until tonight; I think you guys are going to do it,’” said Feather, himself a former Rebel and only the second coach in the program’s history.
When Snyder began dropping into the defense from his midfield spot to help and serve as the launching point for Rebel counters, the lead was quickly 5-0 Maryville with the bulk of the second half still to play.
“We had a terrible practice the day before,” Feather said. “What it came down to was our seniors going out there and showing we’re going to be tough to beat.”
The Rebels really turned on the style for goal No. 4, senior Alex Waddell delivering a perfectly angled ball out of midfield which Snyder collected at the right touchline. Running the ball up close, Snyder slipped a short, nifty pass to Lucas, who hammered a shot to the near right post to put it out of reach.
While the breakthrough against the Admirals was cause for celebration, Feather cautioned the Rebels to keep it in perspective as they left the field.
“Don’t go over there and celebrate like you just won the world,” he said.
Former Lady Rebel Nikki Porter poured in three goals in a similar first-ever win over the Lady Admirals just before the turn of the millennium, a feat yet to be duplicated.
“It felt really great,” said Feather of Tuesday, “but Farragut’s going to be back in it. I’m sure we’ll see them again. You’ve got a group of kids that are confident and motivated right now. They’re proud of their win, but they realize they have to stay focused. Come tournament time, in our district, every team is capable of winning.”
Snyder said Feather kept the message simple during the buildup to Tuesday: “‘It’s time.’”
After the breakthrough against the Admirals, John Kerr said he hopes these Rebels aren’t ready for that time to end.
“This team has tremendous potential,” he said.