Robbie Fletcher, sports editor
It took 20 minutes of overtime, a red card to a key player early in overtime, and a tense eight-round penalty shootout to give the Great Bridge Wildcats the lead, but after a thrilling state quarter-final game against the Powhatan boys football team, the Indians finally saw their historic season came to an end.
In their first class 4 state tournament appearance since 1995, the Indians took on the regional 4A champion Wildcats at Kellum High School in Virginia Beach on Tuesday, June 7 in a match that, on paper, saw the Indians appear as underdogs. , but they played like a team that wasn’t going to end the season early.
Although both sides had close chances throughout the game, it was a true defensive battle and neither team scored until the shootout. For most of the match, it seemed like a game where the first team to make a mistake would decide the outcome, but that never happened, and a lot of the credit for Powhatan’s side went to the defensive efforts of guys like Carter Hubley, Paul Bonner. , Keegan McCullough and Connor Nickerson.
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However, as the game went to a penalty shoot-out, goaltender Tucker Thomas gave the Indians hope by deflecting three shots and nearly stopping two more to give the team a shot at a monumental postseason win.
“He did everything in his power to save us in that shootout,” head coach Willie Miles said. “I’m so proud of him and he’s earned first team status in the region.”
Despite Thomas’ impeccable play in goal, the Wildcats were able to score another goal for a 5-4 shootout victory, with Thomas only inches from saving what should have been the game-winning goal.
During the shootout, the Indians scored two goals each with Nickerson and junior Colton Hiatt.
“I’m still so proud of how they got through eight rounds and kept their composure,” Miles said. “Things didn’t go our way, and that’s life. It’s a team game and we just support each other, but my lord, Tucker Thomas gave us a chance to do something.”
Miles says the team prepared for a possible shootout situation back in the regional quarterfinals, and assistant coach Zachary York played a key role in preparing Thomas for as many types of shots and angles as possible.
“Going into this post-season run, we knew we needed to be prepared for any situation, even before the states were announced,” Miles said. “I’ve always tried my best to prepare my guys for the moment, to excel in the moment, and just to take advantage of the moment.”
There were many controversial moments in the game leading up to this penalty shoot-out where both sides saw calls that completely changed the course of the game. For Powhatan, a red card was given to freshman forward James Davis just 30 seconds into the first overtime after Davis stopped close to midfield, which the referee deemed a foul play despite Davis touching the ball with his foot before touching it. player.
While Miles and the Powhatan staff are still awaiting an appeal on their card dispute, the team had no choice but to play nine backs, with the elder Parker Sloane playing as the lone hitter.
As Sloane was the focus of the entire evening from Wildcat defenders who saw up to three defenders when the ball touched his foot, the red card severely limited Powhatan’s attack throughout overtime, although they were able to give themselves a chance with a shootout.
“I’m pretty sure if James was in the game we’d have a better chance in overtime,” Miles said.
As for the Wildcats, they too faced a refereeing decision that sent fans into a frenzy with 13 minutes left in the second half when their corner kick almost went off and possibly crossed the line before Nickerson cleared it.
As the officials told the game to continue, there was no time to contest the decision and what could have been the only goal in the rules was declared a no-goal.
The game will also be the last for six Powhatan seniors: Sloane, Hubley, McCullough, Jacob Hymel, Hunter Stoddard and Conner Donnelly make their last appearance in Powhatan uniform.
Sloane, now heading to a UVA collegiate game, left it all on the field in his last appearance despite being chased by Wildcat defenders.
Early in the game, Miles decided to move Sloane to a more central midfield position rather than his natural forward position in order to bring in Sloane as a go-between and ball-maker rather than a run-creating striker, but he was eventually moved to his usual role later in first half. Nickerson and sophomore Braden Elsie were also moved into more offensive roles than usual during the game as Miles looked for new ways to get through the Great Bridge’s choke defense.
While the Indians failed to extend what was already a coveted season for the program, there is now hope that appearing at this state tournament will become the new normal rather than a one-year miracle.
Miles points to the presence of eight rising seniors and rapidly developing young players like Davis and Elsie as evidence that their county and regional opponents haven’t seen the last Powhatan Indians on the big stage.
“We’re celebrating our success, but at the same time, we’re not done yet,” Miles said. “We’re on the cusp of a potential state final, and I know this band coming out next year can do it.”
As Miles looks ahead to the team’s progress this year, he recalls a quote Nickerson told the team shortly after the end of their season that perfectly describes what this program intends to become.
“The established standard of play needs to be upheld and maintained.”