Hough High girls soccer coach David Smith said watching his team win its second state championship Saturday night at N.C. State was sweeter than the first one two years ago.
In 2012, Hough upset the nation’s top ranked team, Cary Green Hope, after a speedy sophomore Sarah Moon delivered two amazing goals in the final 12 minutes for a come-from-behind victory. Saturday, though, nationally ranked Hough held off a determined and previously unbeaten Cary Panther Creek team 1-0 in quadruple overtime.
Senior Courtney Carroll delivered the championship-winning kick, a soft shot from about 30 yards away that was tipped by the Panther Creek goalie and hit the back of the net. It came with 3:36 left in the second and final sudden-death overtime. The teams appeared headed for penalty kicks before Carroll’s goal put a sudden end to a heavyweight fight of a state final game.
“I looked up and saw it and I had hit that shot before,” Carroll said. “I saw my high school career flash before my eyes, and I wanted it to end on a good note. I hit and I said to myself, ‘There’s no way (Panther Creek’s goalie is) getting it.’”
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For a second, Hough’s players didn’t react to Carroll’s heroic shot. The goal ended the game, but after playing 80 minutes of regulation and nearly 27 minutes of overtime, it took a little while to sink in. The game was very similar to Hough’s semifinal win over Myers Park Tuesday. Alex Denny’s header with 74 seconds left in sudden death in that game gave Hough a 2-1 win and sent the Huskies to a Mecklenburg County 4A-record third straight girls state championship appearance.
“The same thing, that hesitation, happened against Myers Park,” Hough coach David Smith said. “We were expecting something, a call, I don’t know. But wow. What a game.”
Hough (25-0-2) appeared to try to jump on Panther Creek (22-1-1) early, but the Catamounts – playing before what amounted to a huge home crowd about a 30-minute drive from the school’s campus – took the Huskies’ offensive and ended up controlling the majority of play in regulation.
Both teams finished with 10 shots, but Panther Creek consistently put together better opportunities, many turned away by great defense by Hough’s back four or spectacular saves by All-American Marnie Merritt in goal.
This wasn’t the type of performance Hough has put on in a season where it scored 126 goals and posted 21 shutouts, but Smith said the Huskies had rarely run across a team as good or as determined as Panther Creek.
“I think they’re a great team,” he said, “and you saw a battle between two great teams.”
Carroll, the championship MVP, said she was expecting a tough fight from the Catamounts, but she was surprised by how good they were.
“They’re definitely a good team,” she said. “To play at this level, we expected a good team, but we were taken aback by the level they were playing at, but we turned it up.”
As the overtimes progressed, Hough began to press the action, creating several strong point-blank opportunities, desperate to be champions again. None went in until Carroll’s beauty of a kick sailed high and dropped in.
“I did not want to lose,” she said, “and we did it.”