The fans of the Madison County Middle School Mustangs soccer team should probably have undergone a cardiac stress test prior to the March 31 region tournament final against Franklin County at McWilliams Park in Elberton.
The Mustangs appeared to have the match won with a 2-1 lead and only two seconds remaining in regulation play. But a Franklin County free kick just eluded Madison keeper Juan Zacarias as time expired for the equalizer, which sent the match to overtime.
In the first overtime period, Mason Mallard scored to put the Mustangs ahead again, and then Zacarias and the rest of the Mustang defense were up to the challenge of another furious Franklin comeback bid in the second five-minute extra period to preserve the 3-2 victory and give the Mustangs their first Northeast Georgia Interscholastic Athletic Association Boys Soccer Tournament title since 2008.
Last Thursday, the Mustangs had clinched their second regular season region championship in three years in an eerily similar match at Franklin County. In that contest, Madison County was also ahead by one goal with less than two minutes remaining when Franklin somehow managed to find a way to score and force an overtime shootout. The Cubs won the shootout and the match, but the 3-2 win for Franklin was not enough to deny the Mustangs their share of the region title.
“Those two games against Franklin were enough to make an old man out of you,” said Mustangs coach David Yeary. “The match on Thursday was one of the best played matches I’ve ever seen in middle school and high school, and Saturday’s final was just an all-out war.”
Ironically, it make have been Franklin’s Thursday victory that helped set up its defeat on Saturday. After winning Thursday to force the regular-season tie, Franklin won a coin flip to determine the No. 1 seed in the region tournament. Although Madison had to face a high seed in the semifinals, Yeary said he would not have traded places with Franklin.
“It didn’t bother me a bit that we lost the coin flip (for No. 1 seed),” said Yeary. “Going in No. 2 placed us against Stephens County, a team we had handled with ease in both matches during the season. Franklin had to face host Elbert County, and they took us to overtime in the match on their field in the regular season.”
As it turned out, Franklin did face a hard-fought battle before stopping the tournament-host Rams. Meanwhile, the Mustangs barely broke a sweat in downing Stephens 4-1. Most of the Mustangs’ first two tiers of players were sitting on the sidelines of the match, leaving them well rested for the final.
“We clearly had more left in the tank in the overtime,” said Yeary. “But the important thing was that our players did not allow the goal at the end of regulation to cause them to lose focus. They picked themselves up and kept on playing quality soccer.”
In the final match, Jaylan White had put the Mustangs ahead just six minutes into the contest when he chested in a throw-in from Mallard for the only score of the first half. A converted penalty kick three minutes into the second half knotted the game at 1, then Bryan Antonio pushed in his seventh goal of the season to give the Mustangs the lead again with less than five minutes to play, setting up the last-second Franklin heroics that forced overtime.
“There have been some great games between the top two teams in the region over the years,” said Yeary, whose teams have won 28 of their last 32 contests. “But I don’t think there has ever been a season were the top two teams played three games the quality of the three played by Madison and Franklin this year. We defeated them the first region game of the year 1-0 at home, and then we had two overtime battles at Franklin and in the tournament. Both teams deserved to take home both the region and tournament titles. It’s a credit to the quality of our players’ skill, determination and heart that they came out on top.”
In the semifinal against arch-rival Stephens, Chandler Kyle used a high lob and a scorching liner to account for the first two goals, while Antonio knocked in his seventh of the year to put the Mustangs up 3-0 by halftime. Eli Dixon booted in his first career goal to wrap up the scoring for Madison County.
“Madison County Middle School has been blessed with some outstanding boys soccer teams over the years,” said Yeary, whose team finished the season with a 9-1 record. “Twice since 1996 MCMS has been unbeaten and untied. This year’s team may have not been unbeaten, but it certainly ranks high among the list of great Mustang teams.”