'Betsy prevails in OT, earns regional berth

By Allen LaMountain

   One coach's game plan proved to be a nightmare for the other in a District 1-AA match that was a test of sheer endurance for both squads. But after all the red and yellow cards had been sorted out, and the players separated, the Elizabethton Cyclones had come away with a 2-0 win that sends them to the regional round.
   The Tuesday win at Brown-Childress Stadium over the Sullivan North Golden Raiders was a thriller that saw both team' missing opportunities to score in regulation in a physical contest that got way out of hand in the overtime session.
   Sullivan North head coach Robbie Norris decided to move his best offensive player, midfielder Dee Kestner, to goal, and as he said: "Hope to make it a 1-0 game. We got the game we wanted, but we couldn't score a goal."
   In overtime however, feelings spilled over as a melee involving several members of both squads broke out at midfield near the home grandstands, and got so bad that Norris was willing to concede the contest right then and there.
   Norris called three of the referees over and told them that things had gotten out of hand and that maybe it was time to call it quits. Since there was under a minute left to play middle referee David McMurray decided to play things out, however, and no further extracurricular activities took place.
   "We knew what type of game to expect from them," said Cyclone head coach Bill McClay. "They play physical, and we should have played smarter and harder. We had two goals called back on us early on, and that could have been a big momentum switch."
   A scoreless first half saw 'Betsy send 10 shots at Kestner, who was up to the task for North, turning each attempt away.
   At the 32-minute mark of the first half, Cyclone junior Gavin McKinney got tied up with North's Kenny Shanks right in front of the goal box, as McKinney blasted a shot and Shanks slid down to block it. The shot deflected to the sideline, but Shanks appeared to hold on to McKinney's foot and McKinney retaliated with a kick.
   "It was a deliberate stomp of his foot to the player on the ground," said McMurray in explaining his decision to hand McKinney a red-card violation. "The guy in black (North) was on the ground, and the other kid stomped on him. It was a call for violent conduct."
   The red card essentially ended McKinney's day, and he is also ineligible to play on Thursday night against Sullivan Central.
   In the first half EHS outshot North 10-2, but was unable to solve Kestner or the Raider backline defense, which played the match of the season for North.
   The second half had Sandy Nave scoring a goal, and then having it waved off by McMurray. Nave received a pass at the top of the goal box and rushed toward Ketsner, who came out of net and slid down to block the shot. Nave's shot was a blast that Kestner blocked and the ricochet appeared to strike Nave in the forehead and roll into the net.
   For a moment no one knew what the call would be, but then the Cyclones let out a collective roar as it was ruled a clean goal. Moments later however, McMurray held up Coach Norris' dispute that it was a hand ball and waved off the goal, keeping the contest knotted at 0-0.
   In the second half EHS fired nine more shots at Kestner, who was able to handle them all, sending the frustrated Cyclones into a pair of 10-minute overtime sessions. In total 'Betsy outshot North 23-6 -- with 19 of those coming in regulation -- but still found itself knotted at zero.
   Michael Tierney finally broke through for Betsy with 30 seconds left in the first overtime. Tierney fielded a throw-in from Andrew Smith and sent a high blast at Kestner from 30 yards out that found the back of the net, and 'Betsy was on the board after 90 minutes of action.
   "I wanted Smith to give the ball to me, and he put it right where I wanted it," said Tierney. "I have been having trouble with my 'first touch,' but not this time. It felt good. We were wearing out their keeper, but he kept coming up with tough saves."
   In the second overtime John David Jativa took off with the ball at midfield and outraced two Raider defenders to the goal and put a low shot into the nets going to Kestner's left, giving the Cyclones an insurance policy on the biggest EHS soccer win in school history.
   "We have never gotten this far before," said Tierney. "We knew we were wearing them down, and we would win if we kept our composure and finished off the shots we had, because we had a lot of them. It just awesome -- we get to go to the region and that's the greatest."
   After Jativa's goal things got a little ugly as a skirmish broke out after two North players knocked Cyclone defender Andy Ross to the ground, and Lincoln Orellana came to his defense. Several players were pushing and shoving, but no punches were thrown as both Jativa and North's Pat Adinolfi each received yellow cards.
   "This was a night where if we make one mistake on defense we're toast," said Ross, who along with Orellana, Alex Fries and Jeff Alman played some of the best defense of the season in this contest. "It sure made for some heightened intensity. It was up to us to keep them away from our goal."
   That almost didn't happen as North narrowly missed scoring a goal in the first overtime that would have given the Raiders a huge lift, as well as the lead when Michael Kerney -- in a crowd in front of the Cyclone goal -- didn't get enough on his shot from point blank range that EHS keeper David Poston was able to cover up inches from the goal line.
   As it was that would be the last Raider shot on goal as Tierney tallied to break the stalemate, and Jativa's goal put the icing on the cake for 'Betsy.
   A worn out, but victorious Luke Carrier was respectful of the effort put forth by the Raiders, saying: "We knew they play tough defense, and could make this a long game. We had a lot of chances to shoot, but early on maybe tried to take too many touches. Our first goal was on a long shot, and if we had taken a few more of those type shots we might have been able to put more pressure on their keeper."
   The Cyclones advance to play Sullivan Central in Blountville on Thursday night, and Carrier said of the Cougars: "We match up well with Central and we're hungry to play them, but win or lose we still advance. It's kind of a no pressure game, but we still intend to give it everything we have."
   EHS improves to 8-5-3 with the win, while North fell to 7-6-3, but the Raider program appears to be heading in the right direction under Norris.
   "We went 1-14 two years ago, and went 7-9 least year and finished above .500 this season, so things are looking up," he said.