The strong gust of wind felt around Chattanooga close to 8 p.m. Thursday was a singular exhale from the McCallie soccer team and its fans.
The host Blue Tornado survived a scare, turning a one-goal deficit into a 2-1 victory with two late second-half goals by Noah Tremain and Stone Roebuck to defeat Memphis University School in the Division II-AA state quarterfinals. The win advances McCallie to the semifinals next Wednesday at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro, where the Tornado will face Father Ryan.
"That is gutsy," McCallie coach Chris Cushenbery told his team after the game. "On a day when it felt like maybe this just wasn't our day, you battled and you battled and you battled, and guys stepped up and made big plays."
"I'm so proud of you for not folding. This team has so much character."
The game got off to an inauspicious start for the Blue Tornado (12-4-2). Just 14 seconds after kickoff, McCallie gave up an own goal, leaving the team and the crowd stunned.
Over the next 60 minutes, the Tornado dominated nearly every facet of the game except the scoreboard. They outshot Memphis (5-7-5) 34-10 and had several empty scoring opportunities in the first half.
One of those chances came in the 25th minute, when Gui Vivaldini had a shot saved by Memphis goalkeeper Ben Cramer. Vivaldini had the rebound and an open net, but his follow-up shot was kicked away by an Owls defender just before crossing the goal line.
"We just felt like we were going to start fast, and the own goal was such a brutal way to start," Cushenbery said. "Their keeper made so many great saves, and the way our systems matched up, we had to turn it into more of a man-for-man game."
Roebuck, a senior, nearly tied the game in the 59th minute with a laser from 25 yards out that drilled the crossbar and ricocheted directly back onto the field.
Just five minutes later, Tremain took a free kick from midfield and struck a beautiful shot that went just over Cramer's outstretched arms for the equalizer.
"My first goal with McCallie was from that exact same spot," Tremain said. "I really don't know what to think right now, but I feel like we wanted it more in the second half."
In the 73rd minute, Roebuck got his redemption for the earlier missed kick. After a McCallie shot again was saved by Cramer, Roebuck claimed the rebound and stuck the ball in the back of the net to give his team the lead.
"We just weren't putting stuff away in the first half," Roebuck said. "We've come a long way from where we started this year; a lot of young guys have really grown up."
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at email@example.com.