The celebration was tasteful and low-key, almost indistinguishable from that of any other region win. The hugs may have been a bit longer, and senior defender Jay Patterson jokingly asked where the champagne was after the post-game stretch.
The Region 5-7A boys soccer title, which Lambert clinched on Wednesday night with a 3-1 win over Milton, wasn’t taken as a given. Well, not quite.
“This was almost expected,” Longhorns senior forward Hayden Fontana said, pausing briefly between the middle two words. “We don’t think about losing. When we go into a game, that’s just not in our head.”
This team was surely expected by many to build off of its state championship last year, returning most of its contributors from that team, and the Longhorns certainly have. They haven’t lost a game, and they’ve tied just once, in a scrimmage to begin the season.
In fact, the goal that Milton scored on Thursday was just the third that Lambert had allowed all year. It was a part, though, of a long stretch of play that largely favored the Eagles. The Longhorns scored just over six minutes into the match, with Fontana volleying in a corner kick from Julian Cuervo to the near post, but after that, Milton consistently pressured Lambert’s half, disrupting the Longhorns’ dribbling and link-up play. With 14:54 to go in the first half, the Eagles equalized off a set piece.
But Lambert head coach Chris Wilson has described the Longhorns multiple times as a “second half team,” and that was an accurate characterization on Wednesday. They started pushing forward more seriously once the half started, and with 17:16 left, Fontana again found himself unmarked, and he collected a cross from Thomas Powers and stylishly finished across his body to give Lambert the decisive lead.
“I try my best to try to float around defenders and get behind them and go unnoticed,” Fontana said. “They definitely had me marked most of the game, but those two chances they didn’t, and I was able to capitalize.”
Julian Cuervo scored the Longhorns’ third goal less than four minutes later, banging a left-footed strike from 20 yards out off the post and in, and Lambert held the game scoreless after that.
The Longhorns (12-0-0, 8-0 Region 5-7A) are now entering the state playoffs in the same spot they were last season, but perhaps in a bit of a different state. They don’t have a loss – yet – to motivate them like their defeat to South Forsyth in penalties last year, in which the War Eagles came back from a 3-0 hole. The fire this season is more about recapturing a feeling that they already know and desperately want to recapture.
“This team has the experience of knowing what they’re fighting for,” Wilson said.
Lambert girls 6, Milton 1
The Longhorns moved to 13-0-0, 8-0 on the season with an easy win on Wednesday night, putting them a game away from clinching the Region 5-7A girls title themselves. Madison Haugen scored a hat trick for Lambert, which gave the junior Georgia commit a school-record 21 goals on the season.
Faith Ferrer had two goals for the Longhorns, and Aja Celka had the other. Lambert can win the region title by beating Forsyth Central on April 12 and would also clinch it if the Bulldogs beat West Forsyth on Thursday.