By Brian Paglia
Lambert forward Logan Willis screamed and screamed for the ball as teammate Mitch Fandos went flying down the left sideline with under eight minutes left and the Longhorns tied with West Forsyth.
Willis had been close to scoring all night, but his first seven shots were off the mark. As Willis split the middle of the field, keeping pace with Fandos, he waited for another chance.
Fandos sent a long, arcing cross to Willis in the box, and he didn’t miss this time. West goalkeeper Jacob Allen anticipated a shot to the right post, so Willis headed the ball toward the left post and into the net.
"All I remember is screaming, screaming for the ball," Willis said. "Mitch had a great run, and I just sent it in, put it in."
Willis’ goal punctuated No. 4-ranked Lambert’s 2-1 comeback victory over West on Friday in a crucial county and Region 6-AAAAAA game.
The Longhorns (9-2-0, 3-1-0) dealt the Wolverines (4-6-1, 3-1-0) their first region loss brought each into a four-way tie atop the region with Centennial and Johns Creek.
"Tonight being a region match, it was do or die," Lambert head coach Chris Wilson said. "We needed to beat them to kind of throw everything into the mix."
Those chances looked dire when Cameron Macer put West ahead in the 22nd minute.
Macer took a freekick for the Wolverines from 30 yards out, but his first kick deflected right back to him off a wall of Lambert defenders. So Macer fired again, sending a low shot through the Longhorns’ defense and past goalkeeper Jake Nelson to put West up 1-0.
It was familiar territory for both teams. West has made a habit of taking early leads this season, even against a daunting schedule that’s featured six ranked teams. Lambert was the Wolverines’ seventh ranked opponent. Three more are on the way.
The Longhorns, meanwhile, had been down 1-0 as recently as Tuesday against Milton. They fought back for a 2-1 victory against the Eagles.
"We have been faced with that," Willis said," but our team is resilient. We fought back. We’ve fought back every time. … I think when we go down it makes us angry and we want to win even more."
This comeback started with an errant header by Lambert’s Zane Ziglar that befuddled Allen and the Wolverines defense, just barely crossing the goal to tie the game in the 51st minute.
The Longhorns kept the pressure on from there, eventually outshooting West, 21-4. Fandos failed to convert a one-timer on a cross from Willis in the 66th minute. Cooper Coughlin had a one-on-one chance with 8:50 left, but Allen charged to block the shot.
No matter. Thirty-two seconds later, Willis came through with the game-winner.
"Finally," Willis said. "I had a few [scoring chances] I should’ve finished before that."
It spoiled West’s chance to take control of first place in the region and knock off a ranked opponent. The loss dropped the Wolverines to 0-6-1 against ranked teams, though five of those losses have been by one goal.
"We have to find a way to close out a game," West coach Ahmed Gathing said. "We let in another goal with eight minutes to go, and we just got to find a way to dig a little bit deeper to finish out a game and get the result that we need."
Lambert girls 2,
West Forsyth 1
The ball went into the Lambert box and bounced off defenders and goal posts and Lady Longhorns goalkeeper Jordyn Ebert’s hands like a pinball as the final seconds ticked away.
But in the end, the potential game-tying goal by West Forsyth was knocked away to preserve a 2-1 victory for Lambert on Friday in a Region 6-AAAAAA game at home.
The win improved to the Lady Longhorns to 7-4-0 overall, 2-2-0 in the region and kept them just a game behind Centennial, Johns Creek and South Forsyth who sit in a three-way tie for first place.
"Being where we are in the region right now, and knowing how crucial that game is – yeah, it doesn’t get more nerve-racking," Lambert coach Scott Luthart said.
Up 2-0 on goals by Maggie Hanusek and Casey Baker, the Longhorns still led after West’s Alyssa Robertson scored in the 69th minute.
With 28 seconds left, Lady Wolverines freshman Brooke Pirkle sent a long pass into the box. The ball bounced off bodies, the cross bar of the goal and eventually Ebert’s hands into space.
"How the ball didn’t go in there, I’ll never know," West coach Jason Bayush said.
West fell to 5-6-0 overall and 1-3-0 in the region.