POWDER SPRINGS — Kyler Darsey was on the pitch, but he wanted to go back to where his dreams of a Lambert boys soccer state championship began.
So after the first part of the Longhorns’ celebration, after they beat South Forsyth 3-2 on Saturday at McEachern High School to win the Class 7A state title, Darsey walked over to the stands, jumped on the ledge separating them from the pitch and hugged a few friends from the Longhorns’ student section.
In 2012, Darsey was in fifth grade, and he sat in the bleachers at Lambert’s home field as the Longhorns won their first title in program history. In 2018, the junior was the key offensive piece in title number two, assisting on two of Lambert’s goals.
“We dreamed about it, we always talked about it, and we made it reality,” Darsey said.
Saturday’s matchup the first time that two Forsyth County teams had faced each other in a state final, and close, not always friendly nature of Lambert and South’s relationship was apparent on the field.
The teams had split their two previous matchups in 2018, with the Longhorns winning the first 1-0 and the War Eagles winning the second in penalties, and it was clear that the intensity was turned up on Saturday. Neither team hesitated to make physical plays, and South’s Lorenzo Betti and Lambert’s Jay Patterson both received yellow cards for tackles that knocked the opposing player off their feet.
“It was a little hostile,” Longhorns senior Logan Racine said. “But we knew it would be like that coming into it.”
Hayden Fontana found Racine for the first goal early in the first half, lofting a ball from the right side into the middle of the box, where Racine flicked a header to the left, past South keeper Aarnav Sandhu.
That gave Lambert a 1-0 lead with 33:45 to play. They didn’t get anything for the rest of the half, though, and not long after the first goal, Lambert head coach Chris Wilson pulled Darsey off the pitch and gave him a stern talking-to.
“He’s even better than that,” Wilson. “He’s better at attacking, and I think he was more reluctant and trying to get rid of the ball. So there were times where I was hoping that he would attack himself and become more dangerous.”
Wilson’s wishes for Darsey would soon become goals, but not before South hit back, with Patrick Kelly banging a strike from 30 yards out off the crossbar and in with just over four minutes to go in the first half.
The Longhorns resumed their attack quickly in the second half, though, and with Darsey showed the assertiveness Wilson wanted by dribbling deep into the box on the left side and sliding a ball across goal to Noah Sivinski, who booted it in.
That gave Lambert a 2-1 lead with 32:01 to play in the game, and the Longhorns spent much of the ensuing minutes defending against South’s strong attacking emphasis.
With under six minutes to go, though, Lambert put together a quick move forward. Darsey and Fontana paired up on the right side, where Darsey laid the ball off and Fontana tucked a low strike home.
South made it 3-2 with 41 seconds to play, which produced a surge of late anxiety for the Longhorns, but Lambert kept it away for long enough and rushed the field as state champions. Wilson was the team’s coach in 2012 as well, and while he said the two teams had plenty of contrasts, they shared one key similarity: The year they won it all was the year after they were expected to.
“In 2011, we had a very talented team,” Wilson said. “Tons of seniors – they graduated, and the next group came in and just took it to another level.”
That was certainly the case with this year’s Longhorns, a group with just three seniors and 13 juniors. The latter group includes Darsey, Fontana, Patterson and talented midfielder Trey Hines, and Darsey said the majority would be back to attempt a title defense in 2019.
Lambert and South both finished the season at 18-4-1.