LOA's boys soccer team advanced to the state title game with last week's victory
The Titans are championship game bound.
Lake Oconee Academy’s boys soccer team defeated the Academy for Classical Education (ACE Charter) in last week’s Final Four round, 4-2, to advance to Thursday night’s state championship contest. The bout was a close one but, in the end, LOA pulled away to secure the win and send its home crowd into a frenzy.
“That was so exciting,” Titans head coach Julie Brooker said after the celebrations died down. “You just have to give it to our school. We've taken our licks, so it's awesome. It's really inspiring to know where we're headed. I was so happy for the guys to get to experience that.”
One of LOA’s seniors, goalkeeper Kyle Morse, made sure to soak in the celebration after the struggles of the last two seasons.
“It feels amazing,” Morse said. “Our team has worked really hard to get to this point.”
LOA scored first but ACE did not go away.
John Clay Wofford scored less than 10 minutes into the game. The 1-0 score remained locked in until the second half when things got more exciting.
ACE kicked off the second half with a goal at the 31:26 mark. The squads stayed tied at 1-1 until Troy Weir scored arguably the most important goal of LOA’s season with 21:21 to play.
Weir found the net on a lengthy possession. The goal gave the Titans an advantage they did not relinquish.
“I was ecstatic,” Weir said. “I saw the crowd and I was going crazy. It felt really good.”
That goal was the turning point in the game, as LOA broke through and poured it on to seal the victory.
Wofford scored twice more – at 19:47 and at 10:40 – to record a hat trick, his second this postseason.
He led the strong offensive attack and, even though the Titans did not score any more goals, they possessed the ball for most of the second half, particularly after they took the lead.
“I saw determination out of the offense,” Titans junior Devin Phenix said. “We don't want to come all the way here and just go home. I saw it in their eyes – everybody wanted it.”
LOA’s big second-half performance followed up a crucial halftime discussion.
The teams were deadlocked for most of the first half but ACE seemed to be generating more consistent pushes when the half ended. Brooker said she and her assistants wanted the Titans to keep up their resiliency, which was displayed by Morse in the goal and the rest of the defense.
“Kyle played phenomenal,” Brooker said. “Those big saves like that, they not only save us the goal but they create so much momentum and I think we really fed off that. I think ACE is a great team. I think they really had the momentum ending the half and at the start of the second half. We talked about it at halftime, ‘Everybody wants it so you've got to get out there and out-work them. Give everything you've got. It's the biggest half of your life.’”
The Titans came through to clinch the Final Four win.
That propelled them into Thursday’s championship game against Georgia Military College Prep, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Mercer University.
Phenix, a junior who’s been at LOA since its early days, saw the program grow from strictly middle school and junior varsity to the varsity level beginning two years ago.
During the 2017 season, the Titans posted just a 3-13 record. They finished last year on a hot streak but still had a 5-7 record.
This year, LOA won its region and made its first-ever playoff appearance. Now, the Titans are headed to the championship round much sooner than Phenix would have ever anticipated.
“My expectations were low,” he said. “I had no idea we would be at this point where we are. I'm just extremely excited that we are. It's one of the best feelings of my life.”
Although the Titans were thrilled with last week’s win, they know a tough challenge awaits in the finals.
GMC Prep enters Thursday’s contest with an 18-2 record. The Bulldogs actually hosted LOA on March 5 and edged out the Titans, 2-1.
The Titans hope to reverse the result this time around. Morse said it will take a dialed-in effort.
“Stay focused in practice,” Morse said. “Make sure every single minute counts. They're a tough opponent. Nothing is given. It's always earned.”
Thursday’s game features an interesting wrinkle. Brooker previously taught at GMC and, while there, she was one of the boys soccer team's coaches.
Much like LOA, GMC was undergoing a building process when Brooker was there. She helped coach the team to a 7-12-1 record in 2015 and 3-13-1 record in 2016.
Although Brooker has a personal history at GMC and LOA already played the Bulldogs earlier this year, Brooker said her team must not lose its focus entering the final game of the year.
“We have to do what our assistant coaches say and make the opponent faceless,” she said. “Just go play our game. Obviously, there's going to be a lot of hype but it's going to be about staying centered and focused. The good thing is, neither of us have ever been to a state championship soccer game, so we both have that on our side.”