By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- The rain came down in buckets, coating the Stonewall Jackson pitch with a slick film of water. Generals senior midfielder Patrick Bain stood on the sideline, his sprained right ankle packaged in a black brace. A minute remained in the match's second overtime, and Caleb Golladay, soaked as he stood at midfield, hoped to find his way out of a dry spell Thursday night.
Stonewall Jackson keeper Hayden Miller sent the ball through the cutting rain, and senior Colton Koontz, from midfield, headed the ball Golladay's way.
Golladay tapped the ball five yards to his left, avoiding the charging Spotswood keeper, and settled the ball 10 yards atop a vacant goal.
Then came the tricky part.
"I did not want to whiff that ball," Golladay said. "That was my biggest fear."
He gave it a slap, and the ball skittered into the goal; a one-goal tie blossomed into a 2-1 Stonewall Jackson overtime win, and Golladay collapsed in the grass.
The Generals aren't used to having to battle so hard for 90 minutes. The last time they'd put forth such an effort was in last year's Group A quarterfinal match at Northampton, when it took four overtimes for Bain to finally break a 1-1 tie.
But on Thursday, Bain's sprained ankle, suffered in a practice earlier this week, left him inactive.
That filled Stonewall Jackson's (5-0) season with yet another dubious question mark -- could the Generals control the pace of a match, and win, without Bain, the defending Shenandoah District Co-Player of the Year?
It's been enough of a pain having to trudge through the season without the 33 goals of Armando Moreno, who didn't come out for the team this season, and the reliable possession prowess of Lupe Cardoso, who graduated.
When Golladay trotted off the field after his goal, he pointed both index fingers to the darkening sky: More than one prayer had been answered that night under the falling rain.
"I think that definitely proves that when we need to step up, we can step up," Golladay said.
On Thursday, the Generals had to learn to win without Bain; all season they've learned to win tight matches.
Like Koontz said after Thursday's win, "We're used to 8-0ing people."
The most the Generals have scored this season is six goals. They've had two four-goal wins, and two one-goal wins.
"We haven't been a very dominant scoring team this year," Koontz said. "We're taking each one we get, for sure -- the wins haven't been pretty, but they've all been wins, and that's something that we gotta continue to do.
"Tonight was a very pivotal point in our season."
To offset the loss of Bain and the limited ability of injured junior Emanuel Vasquez, Generals coach Nate Hissong started two inexperienced players called up from junior varsity. He ran a 3-5-2 formation, instead of his preferred 4-4-2, to create more flow in the Bain-less midfield.
Also because of Bain's absence, Koontz wore an orange captain's band around his arm for the first time. With the way Koontz shouldered the Generals' offensive load in the match's fading minutes, it seemed that orange band had always nestled comfortably around his bicep.
In the second overtime, Koontz, within a minute, missed a shot on a header, then launched a liner just over the crown of the goal.
For Hissong, it seemed only proper that Koontz played such a crucial role in ending a match that for so long seemed destined to end in a tie.
"Colton really stood out tonight," Hissong said. "That's what my favorite part of the game was tonight, was him pushing up with all his energy -- he created that last run, had the assist on the last goal.
"That's the motivation and the desire to win that I think really carried us through ... and then to have that extra energy at the end of the match, and be involved in that game-winning goal, it was incredible."