By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
The Lambert boys soccer team is plenty familiar with the postseason quarterfinals.
Prior to their Friday night matchup with East Coweta, the Longhorns had made five previous trips to the state tournament’s "Elite Eight."
When the final horn in their sixth such appearance loudly finalized the 3-0 lead, a rambunctious crowd of Lambert students stormed the field, exchanging hugs and backslaps, and for the first time since 2012, the Longhorns found themselves headed to the state semifinals.
“We either go Elite Eight or we go all the way,” Lambert head coach Chris Wilson said. “I mean it was tough. My players—just fantastic. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Lambert’s first quarterfinal victory in six years was also its second playoff game in three days, having beaten Brookwood 2-0 on Wednesday night and electing to bump their quarterfinal matchup a day early to avoid a scheduling conflict with Saturday’s prom.
The Longhorns seized early control of the match, winning the vast majority of first-half possessions and opening with the noticeable urgency of a team all too familiar with seasons that ended a few games too early.
The Indians thwarted multiple would-be opportunities for the Longhorns and created a number of uncomfortable moments for their hosts. The two teams entered the half tied at five shots and a pair of corner kicks apiece.
“In the first half I was a little worried because we looked like we played 48 hours ago,” Wilson said. “It’s typical. In playoffs you worry, because if you don’t win, you don’t move on. East Coweta came out to play. They came after us and pressed us in the first half.”
The first shift in momentum came just over five minutes into the second half.
Lambert junior captain Trey Hines bore down on a ball positioned with a pair of strategic touches by teammates and hammered an outside shot over the leaping hands of the Indian goalkeeper and into the upper left corner of the net.
“I parried the ball and ran across (the defender),” Hines said. “We’ve been doing this all along in practice: top-of-the-box shots from the center midfielder, and I just placed it back-net.”
Roughly a minute later, Hines’ co-captain Logan Racine fired in what appeared to be a second goal, but it was quickly called off because of an offsides ruling. Regardless of an animated protest by both Wilson and the attending Lambert supporters, both the call and the score remained.
The momentum, however, did not.
The Longhorns’ second half was a dominant one, as they outshot the Indians seven to three and penetrated the East Coweta back-line throughout the final minutes.
“We were hanging onto the ball a little bit too much in the first half,” Wilson said. “I think people were being more defensive-minded instead of being offensive-minded, so we weren’t making more runs off the ball like we normally do.”
After watching a team-leading four previous shots sail high or wide, Hayden Fontana’s fifth shot in the final seven minutes added a second goal to the Lambert lead.
The third and final goal came on a penalty kick under three minutes. Hines made his second score of the night look borderline effortless as he approached, shot and netted the final goal that would extend Lambert’s best season since its lone state championship.
“All it takes is one more week and we have state rings, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Hines said.
The Longhorns (16-4-1) will face the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between Campbell and South Gwinnett on Saturday, which ended too late for this edition.