Austin’s Last Ride: Rebel senior delivers closing goal in final match

Maryville High School senior Austin Pugh orchestrates a Rebel attack during Tuesday’s match at Alcoa.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville High School senior Austin Pugh orchestrates a Rebel attack during Tuesday’s match at Alcoa.

Pugh gets up on a first-half header as Alcoa goalkeeper Tyler Reed locks on.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Pugh gets up on a first-half header as Alcoa goalkeeper Tyler Reed locks on.

Maryville’s Caleb Lucas battles for the ball with Alcoa’s Sam Webster in front of the Tornado goal on Tuesday.

Photo by Brandon Shinn

Maryville’s Caleb Lucas battles for the ball with Alcoa’s Sam Webster in front of the Tornado goal on Tuesday.

Lionel Messi could have been out there for Maryville and he would have been asked to step aside.

“When Kyle (drew) that PK, I walked up to him and said, ‘You know this has got to be Austin,’” Maryville midfielder Josh Manor said.

With just over 10 minutes remaining Tuesday night at Goddard Field, Rebel senior Kyle Snyder was brought down in the Alcoa penalty area. The resulting penalty kick could pad an already insurmountable 3-0 Maryville lead.

Snyder would have been a good choice to take the kick, but, on a night even current FIFA World Player of the Year Messi would have been asked to defer, it would be fellow senior Austin Pugh selected to walk to the penalty spot to nail the win shut.

Pugh’s hard, right-footed shot beat Alcoa goalkeeper Tyler Reed with little trouble, and the eventual 4-0 blanking of the Tornadoes the Rebels fourth shutout this season.

It was a convincing result for a talented, senior-laden Maryville roster.

These could be the first Rebels to beat Farragut.

These could be the first Rebels to reach the state tournament.

There are 13 seniors on the team, led by All-State midfielder David Lethco, and, quite honestly, they are that good.

If any of that happens over the next couple of months, it will happen without Pugh in his customary midfield spot. Tuesday was likely his last game as a Rebel, his closing penalty kick likely his final goal.

The Rebel captain is scheduled for surgery on both shoulders soon. Over the last the four months, one or the other has popped out its socket a total of 12 times during competition. Pugh also plays winter, church-league basketball. Additional separations have occurred with little or no warning, more than once even while Pugh slept.

Pugh said doctors advised him the injury presented no long-term risk if he could play through the pain, something he’d done repeatedly as Maryville has roared to a 5-0 start. During the Rebel opener at Dobyns-Bennett last week, “We were playing great,” Manor said, “and Austin just dropped” when it popped out.

“He said he had to pull up a couple of times (Tuesday) because he said he could feel it coming out,” Maryville coach Steven Feather said.

Sleeping through the pain was another story. Just rolling over in bed could jolt him awake, Pugh said.

“When it started popping out in my sleep,” Pugh said, “I thought I was having a panic attack. If I’m not able to sleep, there’s no way I can keep going.”

At that point, Feather said he advised Pugh it might be best if he went ahead and had the surgery, effectively ending the latter’s senior season.

“When it continues to pop out when he’s sleeps or when he’s trying to put his shirt on,” Feather said, “it’s not worth it.”

Part of the problem, Feather said he’s been told, is Pugh is growing so fast his growth plates, tendons and ligaments simply can’t maintain the pace.

“His body just can’t keep up,” he said.

The decision to have the surgery was reached last week. On Monday, Feather informed the team after practice that Pugh would have to shut it down for the season.

“He (Feather) sat us down at the end of practice,” Manor said. “He was joking around, then he said, ‘We’ve got to talk about Austin Pugh,’ and it got real quiet.”

Later Monday, Pugh and Feather talked again. He had to play against Alcoa, Pugh said. He’d suffered a broken leg in a match with the Tornadoes only the year before. It didn’t take much convincing for Feather to give the go-ahead.

“I said, ‘You want to try to go out there against Alcoa?’” Feather said, “and he lit up.”

There was just one more thing: Cindy Pugh, Austin’s mom.

“The only thought was my mom,” Pugh said. “I definitely wanted to show everybody I could go out with bang. She was skeptical at first, but I think she knew how important it was for me to go out there one more time.”

It took the Rebels a while to get the offense going on Tuesday, but a scoreless opening half only highlighted what may be the strength of this Maryville team. The Tornadoes have one of the state’s top players in junior Austin Stone, but he got few good looks against Rebel defenders Marc Fernandez, Jamey Carmichael, Jackson Fleer and Cole Hood at the back.

Fernandez repeatedly stripped Tornado forwards of the ball with nifty maneuvers down the right touchline. With help from the midfield when necessary, the Rebels limited their rivals to three shots on goal for the match.

“We’ve been doing a good job this year of staying behind the ball and not letting our opponents get behind the last line of defense,” Feather said. “If it’s going to be a shot, it’s going to be a long one.”

Early in the closing half, Lethco collected a rebound at the left side of the penalty area and uncorked a missile to the far post for a 1-0 lead. The reigning district offensive player of the year would tally again soon after off a Manor assist.

With a third goal from junior Caleb Lucas, the Rebels were well clear by the time Pugh walked to the penalty spot. He’d converted on hundreds of them, surely, since taking up the sport as a 4-year-old. This one, though, he absolutely had to have.

“He had tears in his eyes after the PK,” Feather said.

While Pugh will be there on the sideline, the Rebels are going to miss his play on the pitch the rest of the season. Named all-district and all-region even as a freshman, his versatility in the Maryville lineup may be irreplaceable, but it’s more than that, Manor said.

“It’s such a chemistry thing,” he said. “It’s so different with him out there. (Senior) Alex (Wade) and I are just going to have to step up in the middle. We know we have the chance to do something special.”

After Tuesday, the special part may be covered.

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