With seven minutes remaining in Saturday’s N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls soccer championship game against Charlotte’s Providence High, playoff Cinderella Middle Creek found itself behind by two goals.
What happened next led to a heartbreaking end to the No. 26 seed Mustangs’ season.
Just minutes after netting her team’s first goal, Middle Creek junior midfielder Kylie McElroy appeared to score the equalizer in the dying seconds at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field. A celebration ensued, but referees waved the goal off with no time left on the clock, ruling that McElroy was in an offside position as No. 1 seed Providence held on for the 2-1 win.
The state title is the Panthers’ first since 1997 and comes one year after they lost last year’s championship game to Panther Creek. Junior midfielder Molly McGarry, who scored Providence’s opening goal, was named the game’s most valuable player.
Emotional after seeing his team’s season come to a cruel end, Middle Creek (13-6-6) coach Guy Coleman expressed extreme displeasure with the offside call.
“It’s a blown call,” Coleman said. “No girl should lose a state championship on a call like that. It’s ridiculous.”
Coleman said he recognized some officials from the 4A East final, where there was no whistle when an Athens Drive player, in the final seconds, caught a ball under her shirt and ran 40 yards with it.
“If you didn’t know, it’s the same (referee) team, or people from the same team, that blew the ball in the shirt call the other night and somehow we got this team,” he said. “I don’t know how that happens, but it did.”
With time ticking away, Middle Creek senior defender Grace Kennedy maneuvered her way around the 18-yard box before letting loose on a shot, which appeared to be deflected by Providence (25-1-1) freshman goalkeeper Lizah Pistorio. Positioned near the back post, McElroy poked in what she thought was the game-tying goal.
McElroy, who scored nine goals in the Mustangs’ final six games, didn’t believe she was offside.
“I do not think I was,” McElroy said. “I remember looking up and seeing that there was a girl on the post, and my teammates said the keeper touched it, so if the keeper touched, I 100 percent was not off.”
Offside is not determined by whether or not the goalkeeper touches it, if the player is gaining an advantage by being offside.
Goal or not, McElroy spearheaded the Mustangs’ furious rally. When Providence senior forward Jenn Simons scored in the 73rd minute to put the Panthers ahead 2-0, the outcome seemed all but decided.
Less than a minute later, McElroy raced down the field before scoring from the top of the 18-yard box.
The Mustangs had hope again and nearly used its newfound momentum to force overtime.
Like she had in other big games, McGary delivered for Providence. Playing in an attacking role, she forced problems for the Middle Creek defense, and her header off a corner kick in the 49th minute opened up the scoring.
While the Panthers entered the season with championship aspirations, Middle Creek’s journey to Saturday’s title game was unexpected.
Middle Creek lost its final three regular season games and finished fourth in the SWAC, before rattling off five playoff wins prior to Saturday.
Despite the ending, McElroy said the Mustangs’ playoff run is something she’ll forever cherish.
“It was really exciting, and it was really fun,” she said. “We made a lot of memories.”