MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Throughout the 2014 soccer season, Signal Mountain had used a combination of heart, skill, determination and a little chaos to produce an unbeaten record and the program's first-ever trip to the Class A/AA state tournament.
Tuesday evening didn't yield the result the Eagles had hoped for, but it wasn't because they didn't go out playing their own particular "style."
Two-time defending champion and second-ranked Christian Academy of Knoxville manufactured the go-ahead goal in the 46th minute, and the Warriors held off a furious late rally to win 2-1 over the classification's top team in the quarterfinals at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
The Warriors (19-2-2) will face Hume-Fogg in today's semifinals.
Signal was able to get on the board first, on a goal by Conner Apthorp less than a minute into the match, but that was equaled late in the half on an unassisted goal by CAK's Dallas Dunn. The Eagles (17-1-2) had trouble with CAK's ability to possess the ball, as well as the big field -- one that Signal had seen on only a couple of occasions all season long.
"We hadn't run into anyone that could possess and keep the ball that well on a big field all season," Signal coach Richard Northcutt said. "I wish we had, so we could have made our mistakes then. Even though you try to prepare for it, it's not the same against your B guys."
The Warriors took the lead on a header by Matt Zacyzk, assisted by Wade Crutchfield.
"We thought we could beat them on the outside, and Matt made a nice play on it," CAK coach Kurt Backstrom said. "Signal Mountain is a very scrappy, good team, and we're lucky to get out of here."
The Eagles tried everything to even things in the final stages of the match. With about 15 minutes remaining, Northcutt chose to take out goalkeeper Adam Pickett and insert freshman forward/midfielder Brendan LeBarge into the field. The tactic allowed for the Eagles to have another field player on the pitch, but in the event the Warriors would have countered, LeBarge would have been the only person allowed to control the ball with his hands.
The plan almost worked, as Signal's Apthorp, Josh Patta and Alex Greer had some dangerous opportunities in the final minutes, while CAK was signaled for a pair of offside calls. Backstrom said later that it was something his team wasn't prepared for.
"We had never actually tried it before," Northcutt said. "It got us three chances we wouldn't have had. My thinking was that we have to either score or we're going home: Whether you lose by three or lose by one, you're still going home. It provided a little spark, created a little panic and got some chances there at the end -- mostly out of chaos and desperation, but we've been good at that all year."
Pickett finished with six saves. He's one of nine seniors the Eagles will lose from the most successful team in their history.
"We had a good group of seniors that were also leaders," Northcutt said. "They kept us working hard through the good and the bad, and that makes for a good season. We have nothing to be ashamed o. We threw some panic at the wind in the last 15 minutes and tried to come out of our shell, and that's all you can do.
"The guys tried to follow the plan as best as they could. We just ran into a team that was just as strong, but they tried their best and I'm proud of the boys, because that's all you can do."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.