GHSA Boys Soccer Playoffs
East Coweta remains unbeaten, returns to Final Four
by Doug Gorman
The second-ranked East Coweta Indians are headed back to the Class AAAAAA Soccer Final Four.
East Coweta is still standing thanks to a heart-stopping 3-2 win over visiting Lambert Saturday evening at Garland Shoemake Stadium in front of a spirited crowd.
East Coweta punched its ticket to its third Final Four under head coach Todd Beldon's watch thanks to a stellar performance from senior Conner Antley who drilled the ball in the back of the net three times en route to the win.
"His play was really special tonight," said Beldon. "Those goals were huge."
The Indians now hit the road for the first time during the playoffs for a clash against Berkmar, who beat North Cobb 6-0.
"This is a special group," Beldon said. "They are a family. They just love each other and stick together no matter what happens."
The Indians haven't lost a game all year and head to Wednesday's showdown at Berkmar with a 19-0-1 record.
Saturday's game, played under some damp conditions, was one of the Indians' biggest challenges of the season.
A year ago before the Longhorns moved up in classification, they captured the Class AAAA title. Lambert hasn't missed a beat since jumping up two classifications to Class AAAAAA. Saturday night, Lambert brought its No. 6 ranking and a 16-3 record into the Class AAAAAA quarterfinal contest with the Indians.
The Longhorns tried to play the role of spoiler early as Cooper Coughlin gave his team a 1-0 lead about 10 minutes into the contest.
Two minutes later, the Indians went back on the attack as Todd Davis banged a shot off the post. Although his shot missed the mark, East Coweta reestablished the momentum.
The Indians kept the ball near the goal and a few seconds later Antley started his hat trick with his first score of the game, just 12 minutes into the contest on an assist from twin brother Ian to tie the game at 1.
"We knew this team was going to be great," Conner said. "I play club with a lot of their players, so I knew they were going to be good. I was hoping we could score first, but since that didn't go in our favor, it was good to see us respond and not get down on ourselves."
Neither team was able to produce the rest of the half as East Coweta goalie Luke Oesterle and Lambert keeper Miles Maynard each came up with some key stops.
East Coweta added two quick goals in the second half to build a 3-1 lead. Conner scored the first of his two second-half goals when he dribbled past a Lambert defender and curved the ball into the left side of the net 11 minutes into the second half.
Less than six minutes later, Antley put the ball in the back of the net for the final time, again on a header taken off of Nick Martin's pass with 23 minutes still left.
Lambert still had some fight left and continued to attack the East Coweta side of the net.
The Longhorns drew within one with 18 minutes still left to play when a penalty kick was called against the Indians. Coughlin added his second score of the game when he delivered on the opportunity.
Both teams made some key stops down the stretch to keep the game tight.
With under a minute left, the Longhorns continued to put pressure down at the East Coweta side of the field. The Indians' Jairo Ruiz made a sliding tackle late in the game to prevent the Longhorns from getting off a close-in shot.
With about six seconds left, Lambert sent a high desperation attempt toward the Indians' net that was hauled in by Oesterle to preserve the win.
"We are two wins away," Beldon said. "We just have to take it one game at a time."