By Steven Watkins
For the Forsyth County News
The first boys soccer Class 7A semifinal culminated on Tuesday night with a mass of rowdy students leaning expectantly against a gated fence.
Less than five minutes prior, South Forsyth were locked in yet another overtime period, this time with visiting Peachtree Ridge, which had surged back to create a 1-1 tie midway through the second half.
Amongst the attending supporters and the fence that they waited against, horns sounded throughout the War Eagle stadium, South players began removing and waving their jerseys, and those not already eagerly awaiting the team from the edge of the metal barrier held phones and cameras high above the chaos to otherwise capture what they could of the moment.
Five minutes prior, South senior P.J. Mollenauer had possessed a ball near the opposing box after a scoreless first overtime period. He flicked it to teammate Chris Mendelson, who set up senior Ryan Fierle for the shot that found the net and created the 2-1 lead over visiting Peachtree Ridge, an advantage that would send his team to the finals.
With a slight gesture by a security guard and an even slighter removal of the metal barriers, a rush of student athletes met the mass of bodies waiting to congratulate them, and the South Forsyth’s soccer team’s trip to the state finals began to feel undeniably real.
“P.J. sent the long-ball, Chris was able to flick it on, and I was able to take a touch and finish it far-post,” Fierle said of his game-winning goal. “Honestly, I’m so happy I was able to contribute to the team.”
Fierle’s goal and South’s victory sent them to the state finals, a result of four tournament wins decided by one goal, half of which came during penalty kicks.
“It was just an up-and-down, exciting game throughout,” South head coach Tom Braun said. “It was a great way to win in overtime instead of going to PK’s, for once.”
While for once the end result didn’t fall squarely upon his play, South goalkeeper Aarnav Sandhu had yet another crucial penalty-kick deflection, not seven minutes into the match, following a handball in the box by South’s Trevor Byrne.
Sandhu, who has described his previous saves on numerous occasions as “picking a side and diving,” picked, dove and kept his team from falling early to a dangerous tournament opponent.
“I dive, and it went down the middle,” he said.
South’s fourth postseason win now places them in a potential showdown with region-rival Lambert, whom they split their two previous regular season matches against.
“We won’t have to motivate our players and they won’t have to motivate their players,” Braun said. “No matter who you play at this point, it’s a battle.”
When asked if he would want the potential championship to go to PK’s, Braun laughed and paused for a second.
“I wouldn’t mind,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind.”