Editor's Note: Morgan County sports will be suspended until April 1, MCHS athletic director Doug Connelly announced after this story was submitted for publication.
Things got chippy for the Morgan County boys soccer team last Friday.
The Bulldogs played at Region 8-AAA rival Jackson County. The game was tightly contested throughout with neither team giving an inch. The competitive nature of the game translated to competitive individual battles on the field.
Things reached a boiling point late in the game but not before Morgan scored a goal to earn a 1-0 win.
“I think we handled it pretty well,” Morgan head coach Aaron Paul said regarding the contentious atmosphere. “With the fans going crazy, with [Jackson's] bench kind of going crazy, I think our guys handled their composure real well. I felt there were a couple of times where we should not have done a couple of things – we were being a little sneaky on some pushing and stuff like that – but, overall, I thought we handled it very well, and I thought we played very well, too.”
Friday’s chippy moments were not isolated to one or two players. Each team had multiple members get tangled up in heated moments.
Those moments reached a crescendo late in the second half.
Trace Blanton, who scored Morgan’s goal on a penalty kick at the 38:24 mark of the second half, was shoved by one of Jackson’s players after they exchanged words. Teammates had to separate both players while the referees sorted the situation.
Paul said that two of Jackson’s players received yellow cards in the ordeal. Blanton was not tagged with a card but, as a precaution, Blanton removed himself from the game just as Paul was about to substitute him out anyway.
If the situation had spiraled and Blanton received a red card, Morgan would have been forced to complete the game a player short and Blanton would have to serve a one-game suspension.
But the dust settled and, despite the cries of Jackson County’s fans, no other cards were assessed. The match finished out with Morgan on top.
Paul said that even though his team only generated one goal, he was proud of the effort shown by the offensive players.
“I think we maintained possession much better than them,” Paul said. “We passed very well. Honestly, we had five or six shots on goal that should've gone in. Their keeper did a fantastic job on some of those saves.”
The strong performance started, Paul said, with the work of his team’s defense and midfield.
That helped carry the offense to strong possessions. Paul said a shift in the team’s approach opened up the Bulldogs’ opportunities against Jackson.
“One thing we did better [Friday] that we haven't done a lot of all season is we played the ball out wide first on our attack and then brought it in and attacked it in,” Paul said. “We did that more [against Jackson] than we have all season, which is huge. If you can create separation in the defense, it creates more opportunities.”
Morgan’s win improved its record to 4-1-2, including a 2-0 mark in Region 8-AAA. That helped the Bulldogs keep pace with Jefferson. Those two appear on a collision course to decide this year’s region champion.
But that’s assuming that the teams return to action soon. Morgan County schools are closed this week and officials will determine Thursday whether they will remain closed. Sports are also suspended for this week and any further closings of the schools would presumably extend the sports suspension, too.
Paul said he hopes to get his squad back on the field soon to resume the Bulldogs’ chase for the region title.
“I think we're in a very good position,” he said. “We control our own destiny (in the region) but, unfortunately, right now we have no control with the virus situation. I had some guys kind of banged up. ... Having some time off will actually be good, but, hopefully, it's not too much where we can get back on the field and get practicing.”