Celebrating with his players, Guy Coleman held up a trophy nobody expected his team would even have a chance to play for.
Just minutes earlier, the Middle Creek coach watched the No. 26 seed Mustangs secure their first-ever spot in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls’ soccer championship game by beating No. 24 seed Athens Drive, a fellow SWAC team and playoff underdog, 4-1 in overtime in the East Regional final on Tuesday.
It wasn’t easy.
Middle Creek saw a second-half lead evaporate when Athens Drive senior forward Rachel Snyder scored with only eight minutes left.
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But once overtime came around, Middle Creek outscored Athens Drive 3-0.
As a result, the Mustangs (13-5-6) will face No. 1 seed Providence High from Charlotte on Saturday with a state title on the line.
Not bad for a team that went 2-12 in conference play one season ago.
“I’m just ecstatic with how well we played in the overtime period. They tied it up late in the second and that kind of took our steam out,” Coleman said. “We just came out in the overtime determined to win this game.”
Like it has over the past few weeks, Middle Creek made junior midfielder Kylie McElroy its go-to target.
She delivered with two goals, and her second was a back-breaker for Athens Drive (15-8-3). Already ahead 2-1 thanks to a goal by senior forward Ally Elliot less than one minute into overtime, the Mustangs doubled their lead on a header by McElroy with only three seconds remaining in the first overtime period.
“I just yelled at Maggie to take the kick because I knew the clock was running down,” McElroy said. “She took the kick and I saw it go off the girl’s head, so I knew I couldn’t be offside so I just ran onto it and headed it in.”
McElroy now has eight goals in her past five games.
Freshman forward Mattie Murphy scored Middle Creek’s final goal of the day in the 95th minute.
While the final score made the game appear lopsided, it was anything but.
Down the stretch, Athens Drive had a bevy of quality opportunities, none better than the one which Snyder capitalized on in the 72nd minute.
Athens Drive coach Travis Seese said his team’s unlikely run through the playoffs was a joy for both him and his players.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Seese said. “Nobody expected us to get past the first round.”
Tuesday’s game was the last with Athens Drive using Williams Stadium as its primary field. The school plans to move into a new, on-campus stadium in the fall.