It is the cruelest way for a soccer game to end, the outcome reliant on the near-impossible task of a goalkeeper to save shots while stranded.
Such was the plight of South Forsyth’s Sam Walker and West Forsyth’s Alex Jue. The goalkeepers had five penalty kick attempts before them. It was certain they would be wrong. The best possible result was to be the least wrong. A little luck helps.
Needing to answer South again on its sixth attempt, West missed wide left to give the War Eagles a 2-2 (5-4) victory Friday on the road in a critical Region 6-AAAAAA game.
“No one likes to go to penalty kicks,” South boys’ soccer coach Tom Braun said, “but it’s the only way to end a [tied] game. We were fortunate.”
The win improved South to 6-9-0 overall and 3-3-0 in the region to pull into a tie with West (5-8-1, 3-3-0) for fourth place. The War Eagles can secure the fourth seed for the Class AAAAAA tournament with a win against North Forsyth on Friday.
Those were the stakes for both teams entering Friday, though neither came in with much momentum. South had lost four straight, albeit to teams with a combined 41-14-2 record. West had just ended a five-game losing streak Tuesday.
“You feel the butterflies a little bit from the pressure,” South senior Lucas Clari said, “but it helps you play better.”
Indeed, the War Eagles took control thanks to the throws – or more like heaves – by Ryan Peppenhorst.
Short yet compact, Peppenhorst launched a throw in from 40 yards. Clari headed one in to give South a 1-0 lead in the 22nd minute, then Owen Christiansen headed another one from Peppenhorst in the 59th minute.
“[Ryan] gets them in there and you just got to work hard, you got to fight for the ball and good things happen,” Clari said.
Yet West fought back. Two minutes after Christiansen scored, West’s Hunter James scored off a corner kick to cut the lead to 2-1. Cameron Macer tied the game in the 73rd minute with a laser shot off a cross from Marcus Bray.
“Two goals is always a scary lead,” Braun said. “They cut the deficit in half and momentum totally swung.”
But with momentum stuck through the final seven minutes of regulation and two overtimes, South managed to make the penalty kicks that mattered – first Juan Sanchez, then Christiansen, Daniel Rech, Jonathan Heyman, Noah Byrne and finally – and perhaps fittingly – Peppenhorst.
It left West unsure of its postseason hopes and South in control of its playoff fate.
“We’re hoping to build momentum and keep it going in the playoffs,” Clari said. “That’s the only thing that matters now.”