CARY — At the kickoff of the first sudden-death overtime period, Alexis Degler of Green Hope had the ball in a deadlocked game that threatened the end of the Falcons undefeated and untied season.
To defend that spotless record, and its ranking as the nations No. 1 girls soccer team, she attacked.
Fourteen seconds later, Degler had weaved through the middle of visiting Millbrooks defense before a give-and-go with teammate Maura McDonnell ended with Degler putting away the game-winner.
Green Hope won 4-3.
After just more than 100 minutes of soccer the last 30 played in conditions that left fans shrieking at all of the near-goals it was the final 14 seconds that decided it.
I dont know a better way to really explain it other than we knew in our hearts that we did not want to lose, Degler said. Ive put in too much work just in the last three years to let this slip so easily.
The third-round playoff match between the Triangles two best teams and two of the best in the country lived up to the billing.
Green Hope hadnt faced this much adversity since last seasons loss in the state championship game.
Alexis Shaffer, last years state player of the year who has signed with Virginia, was nursing a high ankle sprain. Shaffer got her ankle taped with 12 minutes to go in regulation but never played.
Without its No. 1 player, Green Hope trailed at halftime and was heading for overtime for the first time all year.
Weve gotten to the point where we can go up five goals and just kind of relax, but this time we were like You know what? Its not going to come easy this time, Degler said.
The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the 9th minute on a free kick from Degler, a senior midfielder signed with Ohio State, that found the side netting from 30 yards away.
Green Hope had more chances and perhaps better chances to score than Millbrook in the first half, but the Wildcats were perfect on two free kicks from about 35 yards out.
Senior Rachel Hallman placed the first of her kicks on the head of classmate Jackie Stroud for a 16th-minute goal. Hallman did the same in the 32nd, and freshman Paige Griffiths flicked it in for a 2-1 lead.
They really can place the ball, Green Hope coach Bobby Peterson said. If youre good at it, the keeper is really at your mercy.
Green Hope wasted no time in getting the game back on even terms in the second half. Two minutes into the half, the Falcons Kaylin Lang gathered her own rebound after a ball into the box by Cameron Sigmon set up her first attempt.
There were 38 minutes still to play with the score 2-2, and both teams had their close calls in that time. They headed to overtime instead.
In first 10-minute overtime period, the Falcons had four close calls three saved by Millbrook junior goalkeeper Anna Shelden but were left vulnerable on the counterattack after one of them.
Wildcats junior Colleen Markey got behind the defense and easily slotted the go-ahead goal with 3:20 on the clock.
In the second overtime, Green Hope scored almost immediately.
Kenley Sigmon went direct at the entire Millbrook back line, beating five of them before tucking in the tying goal with 8:48 to play.
I knew their defense was really tired, and I knew we had to score to stay in it, obviously. I just thought, no one else is there, Im going to do it, Sigmon said.
After it had worked well to start the second half and the second overtime period, Degler went at the Wildcats defense once more. With bursts of speed, she took a few touches before laying the ball off to the right for McDonnell.
McDonnell took the ball to the touch line, then crossed it back to find Degler, who had been stonewalled on a similar play earlier in the game by goalkeeper Anna Shelden.
I trust Mo so much ... so I played her the ball and got as open as I possibly could, Degler said.
Millbrook (21-2-1) came from nowhere to prominence last year, ending its playoff run to the same team and on the same field as a year ago.
But with only three seniors who had just one conference win their freshman year on the roster, coach Matt Edwards was left optimistic at how far the program has come.
Im just excited that my team is as connected and strong as (the Falcons) are, said Edwards, in his ninth year. They kept each other up through the highs and lows of the game.
The Wildcats only two losses this season were to the Falcons.
Green Hope (25-0-0) will host Leesville Road on Friday or Saturday in the state quarterfinals.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps