Editor's Note: The Spartans beat Fellowship Christian 5-2 in the second round after this story was submitted.
The Spartans did not draw first blood during last week’s state playoff game against Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School but they did land the knockout blow in the heavyweight battle.
Athens Academy’s boys soccer team hosted Holy Innocents’ last Wednesday in the first round of the Class A-Private state tournament. The teams matched each other throughout the game until the Spartans scored the game-winning goal with 14:55 left in the match.
That victory propelled the Spartans into the second round of the playoffs.
“I thought that we played a pretty good first half,” Athens Academy head coach Stefan Billmayer said. “We were knocking on the door. We had opportunities but we were just tipping it over or just wide. I was pleased with that. This game can be frustrating because it's just that one little something that could be all the difference. ... As the minutes start ticking off and it's still 0-0 and you're working so hard, it can get frustrating. I'm glad the boys didn't go there.”
The teams fought through a scoreless first half. Soon after halftime, Holy Innocents’ pushed across the first goal of the game.
One of Holy Innocents’ possessions led directly in front of the goal. After unsuccessfully trying to kick the ball away, the Spartans watched as the ball rolled into the net.
While the Golden Bears joyously celebrated, several Spartans placed their hands on their heads in disbelief.
Athens Academy goalkeeper Charlie Chisolm had an up-close view of the play.
“It just bounced around weird,” Chisolm said. “It happens. It just bounced over somebody. No big deal, it happens every now and then. As long as we win.”
The Spartans’ season hung in the balance after that moment.
Holy Innocents’ just needed to maintain its lead and it would have advanced, eliminating the Spartans and ending their season.
Then, Athens Academy’s leading scorer came through one more time.
Senior Lewis Scruggs warmed up over the next several minutes. He had a couple of unsuccessful tries at the goal before knocking one in with 24:16 to play.
Scruggs’ goal tied the match and gave the Spartans a jolt.
“It was awesome,” Scruggs said. “It was just like momentum started for the whole team. It was really cool.”
From that point on, Athens Academy controlled the pace of the game.
The Golden Bears made a few more runs but could never muster another goal. Ten minutes ticked off the clock but, all the while, Athens Academy was setting up the game-winner.
Finally, with 14:55 on the clock, Bennett Slatcher found himself driving toward the goal.
Slatcher received a pass from Miles Pringle and finished off the push with a score, giving Athens Academy its decisive 2-1 advantage.
“Great ball from Miles,” Slatcher said. “I just had to make the simple play to finish it. All thanks to the teammates, really, on that one. It was really well set up.”
It took the offensive success to win the match, but Chisolm said the team started playing better once it gave up the first goal and knew it could not afford another mistake.
“We were still a bit discombobulated,” Chisolm said. “It was just a matter of us turning it on. ... That one goal kind of shook us but it was good because it got us all fired up and wanting to play better.”
Athens Academy hosted Fellowship Christian School this past Tuesday in round two. That game was held after press time.
Billmayer knew right after last week’s game that Fellowship Christian awaited his team. Though he did not know much about Fellowship Christian at the time, Billmayer said there were two key areas where his team itself needed to improve in order for the second-round game to end in a victory.
“We do have a few that are nicked up, so we definitely want to take advantage of the time to kind of heal back,” Billmayer said regarding some injuries on the team. “I would have liked to have played a little bit wider [last week]. We've got one of the bigger fields in this area and, as a home advantage and a possession-style team, we really would like to see them pull the width out of teams where they're having to make decisions instead of compacting in the middle of the field. That's where all of our opportunities came from.”