Trexler Bennett has been almost as much of a fixture on Lambert’s soccer field as the turf itself since the program started in 2010. It was only fitting that the senior stood in the spotlight in what may have been his final game at The Horn.
Bennett took a short corner kick from teammate Cooper Coughlin and sent a shot into the near side of the net in the 37th minute, allowing No. 5-ranked Lambert to punch its ticket to the Class 6A state quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory over South Gwinnett on Wednesday at The Horn. The No. 2 seed Longhorns will face undefeated, No. 2-ranked East Coweta on Saturday in Sharpsburg.
"[Head] coach [Chris Wilson] and I talked before the game about how that short corner was going to be [a scoring opportunity] against this team," Bennett said. "We only got one corner actually the whole game and it was open. Cooper just passed me the ball, I was wide open ... and just put it away."
Bennett has started every game for the Longhorns (16-3) since the team began play during his freshman year. He most often serves in more of a defensive role and seldom scores goals, but he has played a variety of positions during the Longhorns’ injury-riddled 2013 campaign.
"He is the motor that makes this thing run, in my opinion," Lambert assistant coach Scott Luthart said.
"He has done more to shut down the opponent’s midfield, sometimes almost single-handedly in certain cases, because we’re fairly liberal in allowing some of our attacking center midfielders to go forward and push up."
Lambert has won five games in a row after losing three out of four during a stretch late in the season.
No. 4 seed South Gwinnett (11-5-1) came into the game looking to pull a second consecutive upset against a top-five ranked team, after upsetting No. 1-ranked Lassister — ranked No. 3 in the nation at the time — 2-1 on May 1.
Instead, the Comets found few quality scoring chances against the defending Class 4A champion Longhorns.
South Gwinnett’s best opportunity to score might have come in the 35th minute, when the ball was crossed into the middle of the field, resulting in a shot that forced Longhorns goalkeeper Miles Maynard into a diving save.
A little more than two minutes later, Coughlin tapped a corner kick to Bennett on the left side of the field, and the senior sent a shot from outside the 18 toward the bottom left corner of the net.
Comets goalkeeper Max Catamaglia was positioned toward the left side of the goal, but couldn’t get his hands on the ball well enough to keep it from going into the net.
"We knew they were going to be pretty compact in the middle, so Coach Wilson spent the last four days preparing for this, really trying to change [our] point of attack," Luthart said. "When we followed that game plan that he set in front of us, in the first half we had good build up and our best [scoring] opportunities came from getting the ball out wide and stretching the width."
The Longhorns missed a handful of solid scoring opportunities after halftime, but ultimately did not need an insurance goal. South Gwinnett managed just one shot on goal the rest of the way, when a free kick led to a soft header straight to Maynard midway through the second half.
"They were honestly one of the more athletic teams we’ve seen this year," Luthart said.
"Where I thought we might get caught in the second half was the free kicks from inside our half of the field because they had size, they were good in the air, and they really battled. We kind of bent but didn’t break in the first half. Second half, I thought we really shorted up pretty well and were much more responsible in terms of our shape and our cover."
Lambert senior midfielder Chad McArdle suffered a wrist injury in the 13th minute but later returned the game.
The Longhorns played without senior defender Ryan Elswick, who suffered a leg injury in the first round of the playoffs. Bennett slid into Elswick’s spot during last week’s game and accepted more of a defensive role.
Bennett said he’s not concerned with how he’s used on the field as long as it translates into a victory.
"Getting a win tonight was definitely all that was on my mind because it was my last home game," Bennett said.
"But at the same time, my four years aren’t over, and I want to lead the program the right way by repeating what we did last year. ... I’ll do whatever it takes for my team to win."