By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
There weren’t a lot of quiet moments throughout Tuesday night’s state semifinal matchup between the Lambert boys soccer team and visiting Meadowcreek.
For 80 regulation minutes and the extra 15, “The Horn” was very much full and alive with shouts, cheers, complaints and the occasional horn blast, courtesy of the faithful for both the visiting Mustangs and the hosting Longhorns.
The defending-champ Horns found themselves in an unfamiliar 1-0 deficit within the first two minutes of the match. Lambert stormed back, took control of the match and tied it at one with just over five minutes left in the first half, with Kyler Darsey contributing the goal. Both teams threatened numerous times, Lambert with superior ball-control leading to winning the majority of posessions, and Meadow Creek with the occasional, yet lethal counter catching the Horns dangerously out of position.
But it all came down to penalties after a tie to end regulation and a scoreless extra time period. With a 3-2 Lambert lead in penalties, a state finals berth on the line, and the first truly quiet moment of the night, Lambert senior and co-captain Nick Alliston strode away from his teammates, approached his starting point and found himself precisely where he wanted to be.
“I’ve been kicking fifth since I’ve been on varsity,” Alliston said. “I like fifth, I like the pressure of it, (and) I like when I can kick for the win.”
Meadowcreek keeper David Xaysettha, already having made a number of spectacular saves on the night, bounced with nervous energy inside the box as Alliston waited for the go-ahead.
Alliston made his approach, struck the ball firmly, but with control, and watched it sail just over Xaysettah’s fingertips and into the net. The brief silence was over.
Lambert’s half of the stadium emptied onto the field, blending with the players already swarming Alliston and joining in celebrating in a 2-1 final score that would send Lambert to its second consecutive state finals.
“I haven’t missed before, and I made it again,” Alliston said, laughing during the celebration. “We practice them (penalties) all the time, and we have that confidence, our coach has that confidence, and we know even if we miss one, we’re going to make (the next)."
Alliston joined co-captain Jay Patterson and teammates Grant Ziegler and Trey Hines—all seniors—in making their penalty kicks, all of which may have been for nothing if not for the performance by Longhorns goalkeeper Chris Smith, both in and out of regulation.
“These guys work so hard in front of me – if they make a mistake, they don’t deserve to give up something that they’ve been working towards the last four months,” Smith said. “If I can be a part of that and help them get through, that’s my own goal. Everything I do is to make sure that happens.”
With eight saves on the night, Smith did more than help.
Twice in first minutes of extra play alone, Smith found himself essentially one-on-one with Meadowcreek forward Aldo Garibo, the player responsible for the initial Mustang goal and repeatedly Meadowcreek’s most dangerous threat to turn their quick-developing counters into scores throughout the night.
“They countered well,” Lambert head coach Chris Wilson said. “They came after us.”
As plentiful as the Mustang scoring opportunities were, so too were those for the Horns, with three of their 10 shots on goal ricocheting off of the cross bar, two of those seconds apart and within the final five minutes of regulation play.
“We created great opportunities; we just couldn’t finish them,” Wilson said.
Missed opportunities and previous games aside, Lambert once again finds themselves in the 7A state finals, where the Longhorns are set to face Lakeside-DeKalb on Saturday. Wilson couldn’t be prouder of the path his team took to get there.
“You know what, the confidence we’ll gain from this game will be fantastic,” he said. “You win a game in PK’s going into the state championship – if we have to do it again, we’ll have the experience now.”