The Signal Mountain boys' soccer team started Thursday evening's match 80 minutes away from a potential first-ever District 7-A/AA regular-season championship. Less than a minute in, they had inched closer with a one-goal advantage.
Seventy-nine minutes later, it was time to celebrate.
The state-second-ranked Eagles scored two first-half goals off set pieces, and the defense shut down the Notre Dame attack for a 2-0 victory that spoiled the Irish's senior-night activities. Signal (11-0-1, 4-0) will have the inside track on a spot in the region tournament when the district semifinals begin on May 6.
"I thought we played really hard," Signal coach Richard Northcutt said. "We are more hustle and heart and skill -- it was ugly, wasn't it? -- but our defense was really good and we didn't give them many chances."
Robert Schorr got Signal on the board with a rebound shot after a long Graham Eschmann throw-in that bounced around the box just long enough for Schorr to get a foot on. He had another opportunity moments later from the left wing that he pushed just high.
Brian Hodges stretched the lead to two goals on a free kick that deflected off a Notre Dame player and was rerouted past Notre Dame keeper James Teal.
"That first goal was a little surprising," Northcutt said. "It's too early to celebrate, because we know that we have to keep playing, but if you get that first goal in soccer, it's a huge plus. You haven't won, but it's a good step forward. Even when we got that second one, '2' is the most dangerous score in soccer because if they score, their crowd's in it and you really have to hold it down to win."
Signal's Adam Pickett played well in goal, finishing with five saves. Teal had three for the Irish (6-7-2, 2-2), who will be the No. 3 seed in the district tournament.
Notre Dame coach Jim Schermerhorn said his team seemed a little "deflated" after that first goal.
"We made a mistake in the penalty box and got scored on, but the thing is, can you rebound from that?" Schermerhorn said. "There's still 78 minutes to play, but you can't give up a goal in the first two minutes; you can't put your head down and just give up, because there's still a whole game to play. You make a mistake, you make a mistake, but do something about it.
"We just couldn't figure it out tonight, and now we're in a tough position. It's no different than second or first, because you still have to play your way through the tournament in front of us. We have to do away with mistakes, though, because they're killing us."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.