MURFREESBORO — It was a test of stamina as much as desire and determination for Montgomery Bell Academy’s boys soccer team, which claimed the TSSAA Division II-AA state championship Thursday by rallying to a 2-1 victory over Christ Presbyterian Academy at Richard Siegel Soccer Complex.
MBA won 4-3 on penalty kicks.
The Big Red (15-1-2) had to play a total of 200 minutes in the final two rounds to claim its second state title and first since 2015. MBA also beat Baylor in Wednesday’s semifinals 5-4 on penalty kicks.
“It all came down to conditioning for our boys and we knew they were up for this,” MBA coach Giles Cheevers said. “We knew this was a possibility. We had practiced penalty kicks for weeks leading up to this and it’s a credit to these boys for going through everything we put them through. The were ready physically and mentally. They were phenomenal.”
The victory avenged MBA’s only loss of the season, which came against CPA (1-0) on April 19.
“That was all we could talk about in the pregame was that this was our time to get back at them,” MBA goalie Graham Smith. “Getting back in this sort of fashion in this environment is something I don’t think will ever be recreated again in my life.”
Smith stopped CPA’s first and last penalty kicks. Big Red fans rushed on the pitch after Smith’s last stop to celebrate with the team.
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CPA (11-2-3), in its second season after moving up to II-AA, scored in the first four minutes in regulation and MBA scored in the last three.
Lions coach Tom Gerlach felt confident after his team scored first because of its tenacious defense, which came into the game having allowed only five goals all season.
“We scored early in the last several games and when we score early our defense holds up,” Gerlach said. “I thought we would hold it. Our guys’ legs were tired; they were cramping up. So we were really doing subs late saying, ‘If can we just survive these last few minutes.’”
It appeared CPA might outlast MBA until Big Red junior midfielder Richard Aylward scored on a header with his back to the goal with 2:24 left in regulation.
“I could not see the goal, but their goal keeper said, ‘Mine, mine, mine,” so I knew he was right behind me,” Aylward said. “I just tried to flick it over because I knew he wouldn’t be in his goal.”
Aylward admitted he was running on fumes at that point. Unlike his teammates, who may have been up for the physical challenge they faced over the last two days, Aylward recently returned from a fractured hip and strained back, which sidelined him for two months and took a toll on his conditioning.
“When I was injured I stayed in the gym doing as much as I could, but if I’m being real it was just the emotions that kept me going; not really my fitness,” Aylward said.
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259–8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.