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Soccer: Lambert boys 'fought ... until the end'
Longhorns fall to East Coweta
East Cowetas Jairo Ruiz, left, and Lamberts Cooper Coughlin compete for the ball during the Class 6A state quarterfinals on Saturday in Sharpsburg. - photo by Jared Putnam

SHARPSBURG — Since the start of the 2013 season, Lambert’s boys soccer team has succeeded by overcoming illness, serious injuries and even the absence of its head coach in the first two rounds of the state playoffs.

On Saturday, the Longhorns finally ran into a set of circumstances that they couldn’t rise above.

Conner Antley scored three goals — the first off a pass from his twin brother Ian — and No. 2-ranked East Coweta remained undefeated with a 3-2 victory over No. 5 Lambert at Garland Shoemake Memorial Stadium.

“We were joking that they must have ESP. They play very well together,” Lambert head coach Chris Wilson said. “Every team we’ve played has one dynamic forward. They have two, and they have a very solid team.

“You hate it because our kids fought and fought and we were in it until the end, so I couldn’t be prouder of our group of boys, [especially considering] what we’ve had to deal with this year.”

The No. 2 seed Longhorns (16-4) and No. 1 seed Indians (19-0-1) entered the second half tied at 1, before Conner Antley scored two goals in a span of about six minutes.

The senior weaved his way through a crowd of Lambert players and into the middle of the field, where he sent a low shot into the bottom left corner of the net from outside the box less than 11 minutes into the second half.

Antley struck again in the 57th minute with a high, arcing header over Lambert goalkeeper Miles Maynard off a pass from Nick Martin.

“It was big to get a little breathing room,” East Coweta head coach Todd Beldon said. “That still wasn’t much breathing room the way [Lambert] plays because they’re awesome, and we knew that coming in.”

The Indians’ breathing room didn’t last for long.

Five minutes after Antley’s final goal, Lambert’s Mitch Fandos was fouled in the box by an East Coweta defender desperately trying to stop a goal, after their keeper was drawn out of the net.

Cooper Coughlin took the penalty kick and sent the ball into the right side of the net to narrow the gap to 3-2.

Lambert continued to pressure the goal for most of the remaining 18 minutes, but was never able to find an equalizer.

“We’ve had so many ... season-ending injuries, injuries for five weeks to six weeks,” Wilson said. “The flu ran through our team [at one point], that’s why we lost three games in two weeks, because we had three starters on the field.

“But you know what, our group has been resilient all year long and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

The Longhorns got off to a fast start in what was their first postseason game on the road since 2010 and their first game on a grass field this season.

Recent rains gave the playing surface an even more foreign feel. Much of the field — particularly the middle — was a muddy mess that left both teams stumbling and sliding around throughout the game.

Coughlin was left open in the middle of the field in the 10th minute and put Lambert on top 1-0 with a kick from about 25 yards out.  

But less than two minutes later, Ian Antley pushed the ball down the right side of the field and sent a cross over to Conner, who headed the ball into the net to tie the game.

“The field is a slop in the middle — gorgeous around the outsides but sloppy in the middle — and unfortunately that [works against] our game,” Wilson said. “The ball is on the ground [a lot], and when we have to take an extra touch or we have a bad touch because we lose our footing, it [does] affect us.”

The Longhorns lose several seniors to graduation this year, including Trexler Bennett and Bobby Hopper, members of Lambert’s inaugural freshman class and four-year starters.

“Trexler [Bennett] and Bobby Hopper have built this program,” Wilson said. “Those two, freshman year when we opened up, they started for us and they haven’t looked back since. I couldn’t be prouder of what our program is with those two.”