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Soccer: Forsyth Central girls rally past Archer, qualify for state semifinals
Forsyth Central celebrates a goal by Avery Berryman during a Class 7A state tournament quarterfinal against Archer Monday at Bulldog Stadium. (Photo by Nicholas Sullivan)

Avery Berryman spent the final 12 minutes, 56 seconds of Forsyth Central's Class 7A state quarterfinal against Archer on the sideline in agony.

Sure, the senior's minor leg injury that forced her off the field contributed to the angst. But the more excruciating situation for Berryman involved not being able to help her team down the stretch hold onto the 2-1 lead she gave them with her 56th-minute goal.

“I was freaking out,” Berryman said afterwards. “I’m not going to lie.”

As the minutes ticked down, Berryman hobbled around the bench area until Brielle LaBerge — whose goal evened the match in the 53rd minute — slotted her second strike into the bottom left corner to seal the victory with 89 seconds remaining.

At that point, Berryman lifted both arms straight into the air in celebration. The senior held them there until finally wrapping her arms around Bulldogs head coach Angela Camp, whose long wait for a Final Four trip ended with Monday's 3-1 home win.

“It’s amazing,” Camp said, while shivering from a celebratory ice water bath courtesy of Berryman and Mari Dennis. “I’ve coached for 22 years. I’ve made the Elite Eight four times, and finally to bust through to the Final Four, it’s a relief and a testament to what a great team we have here.”

That team faced a 1-0 deficit for the second time in as many rounds, but just as it did against North Gwinnett after falling behind, Forsyth Central pushed until it found the equalizer. At that point, the Bulldogs played more like sharks, smelling blood in the water and going in for the kill.

“I felt like we got off of what we should have been doing early on,” Camp said. “We had to talk about that at halftime. They just stayed composed like they have all season. They kept pressing.

“We felt like once we got one that we could get more after that.”

In both instances, it was two goals in quick succession that turned the games around.

Monday saw Forsyth Central trail for nearly half an hour — the final 16 minutes of the first half and opening 12-plus of the second — before LaBerge fired home with her right foot to even the score at 1-apiece.

Berryman found herself with a golden opportunity to put the Bulldogs ahead less than two minutes later. Kira Kim played a perfectly weighted through ball to Gabby Volpe, whose cross from the byline found Berryman at the edge of the 6-yard box. But the Alabama-Birmingham signee shot wide.

It wasn't long, though, until Berryman received a chance at redemption.

Less than 30 seconds later, LaBerge scuffed her shot from distance, but it fell to the feet of Berryman, whose back was to the goal. This time, the right-footed striker made no mistake, turning and slipping the ball into the right corner.

“I was frustrated for sure,” Berryman said, referring to the previous missed opportunity. “I hear my teammates in my ears, saying ‘Next one. You’ve got it. It’s coming.’ I let their positivity lift me up.”

Despite scoring somewhat against the run of play on Aniyah Collier's breakaway goal, Archer gave itself a couple of chances to double its lead early in the second half.

However, Marlee McAdam made a couple of big saves — including one shot Collier blasted straight into the senior's chest from close distance just after halftime — and received some help from her crossbar in the 50th minute.

Once Forsyth Central scored, though, Archer — which shut out Marietta (5-0) and Lowndes (3-0) at home in the first two rounds — seemed to react as if it knew what would come next. The Tigers didn't create any clear-cut chances after falling behind, even after Berryman left the field with just under 13 minutes to go.

“The biggest part of me was saying, ‘Get back on the field,’” Berryman said in regards to her injury. “But I knew I needed to sit back. I trusted my teammates, because I knew they had it.”

Being forced into a spectator's role became much more palatable for Berryman once LaBerge sealed the result.

“It was just relief,” Berryman said. “I knew we have it and we’re moving on. It was just pure joy and excitement. I hugged coach Camp, and I was like ‘We did it.’”

Both teams entered the game as region champions, No. 1 seeds and ranked inside the top five. Only one could advance, though, as fourth-ranked Forsyth Central (16-3) moves on to host No. 2 Walton April 27 in the semifinals.

Having reached the Final Four, the Bulldogs already exceeded Berryman's wildest dreams. Now, she's just enjoying the ride.

“It’s the best feeling in the entire world,” Berryman said. “Absolutely nothing can compare to it.

“At the beginning of the season, I said, ‘Let’s win the region, and let’s see what happens then.’  Here we are going into the Final Four, and I just could not be more proud of my team and what we’ve done.”