HUNTSVILLE – With time dwindling down in the second overtime of Friday’s state semifinal match, Enterprise boys soccer coach Bruch Ladner was already planning for an anticipated post-overtime shootout.
Wildcat senior Tyler Howard, though, scrapped those plans in dramatic fashion, booming a 30-yard shot into the net with nine seconds left to give the Wildcats a 4-3 win over McGill-Toolen in a Class 7A semifinal at Huntsville’s John Hunt Park.
“There were a couple of seconds left and we all looked at the clock and realized that somebody would have to take a shot,” Howard said. “I had the opportunity. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pass it and for them to have a shot in time, so I just went ahead and ripped it.”
He ripped it hard into the top-right corner of the net past McGill-Toolen goalkeeper Will Blake, setting off a wild celebration among the Enterprise players.
“When it left his foot, most of the people on our bench were thinking, ‘It has a chance, it has a chance,’” Enterprise’s Ladner said. “McGill’s goalkeeper was a tall fella, but it blew right by him before he could really react and it went in the back of the net. Then there was bedlam.”
Howard’s game winner vaulted Enterprise (14-5-4) into Saturday’s state championship match against Hoover (18-4-3), which won a 2-1 double-overtime match over Florence in the other semifinal.
The two teams met on March 2 in Enterprise with the Buccaneers winning 2-1. Last year, Enterprise won at Hoover, 3-2. Today’s winner will claim the championship trophy.
“We are familiar with them and they are familiar with us,” Lander said. “Both set of players are going be tired. It is tough to play a semifinal and come back in roughly 16 hours for the final. We will both do our best. We will try to represent Enterprise as good as we can and hopefully bring home a trophy with a correct color.”
The winner captures the blue trophy; the runner-up gets red.
Ladner admitted he thought Friday’s match was headed to the shootout phase.
“I already had my penalty kick list out and reviewing who I wanted to take those based on the conditions of the players at the end of the game versus the penalty kick chart we take on the whole team,” Ladner said of his mindset in the final minute. “We had a couple of guys banged up, so I don’t totally know at this moment who I would have chosen, but I will never have to make that decision.”
Howard took his shot after a pass from Manuel Munoz.
“The players were pretty much out of gas and playing on fumes,” Ladner said. “Tyler received the ball about 35 yards out – he was a long way outside the box. He had the patience and the composure to get it under control and get a first touch out in front of him where he could get a shot. He struck it and I don’t know if you could have placed it in the right corner any better.”
Howard said the shot felt good coming off his foot and he felt it had a chance watching while it was in the air.
“That was about as good as it could have been for me,” Howard said. “This is definitely the peak moment of my career.”
The Wildcats seized a 1-0 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half when Rasheed Bolaji scored off an assist from Sam Mazariegos. The Yellow Jackets, who gave Enterprise problems on long throw-ins, scored twice to take a 2-1 lead.
Mazariegos, though, earned an unassisted goal with 2:47 left in the half to knot the score at 2-all, which is where it stood at halftime.
Halfway through the second half, Mazariegos scored off a pass from Bolaji, giving the Wildcats a 3-2 lead. McGill scored an equalizer with nine minutes left.
Neither team could score again in regulation and the match went to the two five-minute overtime periods. It remained tied after the first overtime and it appeared likewise for the second overtime until Howard’s dramatic shot.
The Wildcats outshot the Yellow Jackets 20-9 thanks partly to strong defense in the backfield. Jeremiah Grimes and Andre Mazariegos both had 11 defensive clear-outs to prevent McGill scoring opportunities. Ladner also credited defenders Matt Shehan and Anthony Venezia with solid games.
“They didn’t get beat on the outside much,” Ladner said.
The Wildcats now focus on today’s match with Hoover.
“We have been working for this all season and most of us have been working for this for half of our lives, so it means a lot to finally get to play for a state championship,” Howard said.
“First of all, we are extremely happy, pleased and proud to be representing Enterprise and really the whole Wiregrass in the finals tomorrow when it comes to soccer,” Ladner said. “Soccer has made great strides in the Wiregrass and we would love to bring a championship back home.”