Late goals save 'Betsy

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   Whoever said you need to play the entire 80 minutes of a soccer match to prove victorious evidently hasn't seen the Cyclones in action.
   Elizabethton came out in the first couple of minutes to grab the opening lead, and finished off the late stage of the contest to collect a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over University High in the District 1-A/AA tournament Tuesday night at Dave Rider Field.
   The Cyclones managed to erase a one-goal deficit in the closing minutes, after a penalty kick from Derek Slagle tied the contest.
   The game-winning shot soon followed, with Eric Crowe nailing the attempt off a nice pass from Brian Freeman, and advancing 'Betsy to the championship game on Thursday, at 5:30 p.m., at Sullivan Central.
   "We kept our composure, and we put a lot of pressure on the goal and that's why we got it," said Elizabethton coach Bill McClay. "We got the ball down inside the box, and there's not much more of a pressure situation in sports than Derek's kick. The game was on the line and he put it away, and then the next goal was just a great combination."
   Elizabethton grabbed the advantage right off the bat as Chris Wilson made a pass over to Dylan Smith for a shot from the left side of the goal and a 1-0 lead.
   The Cyclones controlled the first half with the ball staying mostly on their end of the field, but they were unable to connect on the shot opportunities that were presented.
   University High didn't get a good look at the goal until 15 minutes into the game, when Burl Williams knocked the ball down out in front of him for a breakaway attempt.
   The shot veered off to the left, and his next attempt was stopped by Kyle Germaine.
   It appeared that Elizabethton might capture another goal in the final 10 minutes of the first half, but shots from Wilson and Robert Cogan sailed off the mark.
   A kick from Germaine was a little too high, splitting the uprights for what would have been good for three points in football.
   The missed chances came back to haunt the Cyclones in the final minutes, as a one-goal advantage turned into a tie game before the half ended.
   A steal and goal from Matt Conley knotted the score at 1 with less than five minutes left, which seem to take away some of the Cyclones' momentum.
   The dominated half from Elizabethton had turned into a new game to start the second half, with neither team having the advantage.
   "We've had difficulty all year in scoring early, and then we put pressure on the goals and score early," said McClay. "After putting pressure on the goal and not getting any scores, we seem to let down toward the end of the half, and got the goal back to make it even."
   A nice run-from-behind save by Tyler Ross cut off the Bucs forward, who was charging toward the goal to start the second half.
   Emotions from the Bucs ended with a result of a red card being displayed, as Garrett Williams lost his temper and came off the ground to shove a Cyclone player. Another penalty was assessed with Alex Hrusa being shown the yellow card, which gave Elizabethton the upper hand with the number of players on the field.
   Instead of making the most of the advantage, the Cyclones had a letdown, with a quick strike afterwards coming from Drew Billingsby to give University High a 2-1 lead.
   "They started beating us to every ball, and if we clear the goal that doesn't happen, but they got it," said McClay. "The second half they really had us back on our heels, and then the guy gets tossed. When he got tossed, then mentally we said, 'We have eleven guys and we're going to win.' On the next play they score, and so that's a mental thing they cannot let down. You've got to go 80 minutes regardless of what's going on the field."
   It was entirely a different atmosphere from then on, as Elizabethton was feeling the effect of shock, while the Bucs were riding the wave of success.
   University High made the change from forward to fullback with Williams, which seemed to give the Jr. Bucs more stability on defense.
   The Cyclones' opportunities were limited, and with around five minutes to go, 'Betsy's season appeared to be fading.
   A shot by Freeman from the left side of the goal nearly got through the Buc defense, but a scrap for the ball resulted in the Cyclones getting a penalty kick inside the box for an illegal touch.
   The pressure was on the foot of Slagle, but a hard kick got past the goalie, after he managed to get a hand on the ball.
   "I would have never got the penalty kick without the team, because I'm only one man and there's 11 out here," said Slagle. "I really didn't feel any pressure. I said, 'God I can make this, or if I don't, then it's just a game.'
   "We kind of let down, and I'm not really sure why, but the game was coming to a close and then we got another chance, got back into it. We played really well as a team in the last five minutes, and got the goals when we needed to."
   The Cyclones had new life, and before the blink of the eye, Elizabethton somehow came back and ripped the UH defense for another goal score.
   This time it was Freeman on the drive down the left side, then came a pass over to waiting Crowe, who nailed the game-winner with about two minutes left.
   "I was so nervous right there with the game tied 2-2, but then I saw the ball coming, and I thought the ball was going over," said Crowe. "The goalie then hit it and the ball hit the pole and I thought it was going to bounce back out, but it went in. It was an awesome pass and I was just in the right spot."
   Elizabethton is scheduled to play at Sullivan Central on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., where they'll attempt to knock off the Cougars en route to capture the district title.