DAHLONEGA — With the Area 7-AAA soccer championship on the line, the Flowery Branch Falcons knew they were going to be in for a battle against No.13-ranked Lumpkin County.
It took all 80 minutes, but the fifth-ranked Falcons were able to hold on to a 3-2 victory and claim their second area title in three years and first under new head coach Jeremy Purdy.
“Unbelievable,” Purdy said of the emotions he was feeling after watching his team celebrate an area title. “They were a very competitive team and we knew they were going to give us all they had.
“It came down to playing together as a team and we were able to do that,” he added. “That’s been our motto all year long, to keep it as a team.”
The Falcons (14-1-1, 9-0 Area 7-AAA) had to stick with that motto as tempers began to flare late in the second half.
With 14:39 remaining in the game, and the Falcons leading 2-1, Flowery Branch senior forward Kyle Ellis found himself surrounded by three Lumpkin County (11-2, 6-2) defenders inside the Indians penalty area. Just as Ellis was about to fire a shot on goal, he was tripped from behind and awarded a penalty kick.
“It was an excellent call by the official, he had a perfect angle on the foul,” Ellis said.
With just the goalie standing in the way of a two-goal Falcons lead, Ellis stepped up to the ball and drilled a hard shot into the right side of the net.
“I just thought to myself that it was do or die right there,” Ellis said. “They had all the momentum up until that.”
Not only did the penalty kick switch the momentum, but the call that awarded the kick angered a few Lumpkin County players, two of whom were sent off with red cards, including one who was sitting on the bench at the time the play occurred.
“With a game of this magnitude and the intensity overall, you could tell that both teams wanted it,” Purdy said. “I have to give credit to the seniors, they kept our team composed.”
Despite playing a man down, Lumpkin County stayed aggressive.
With 11 minutes left game Lumpkin County’s Cesar Guerrero took the free kick just outside the Falcons penalty box and fired a hard shot on goal that was saved by a diving Zach Clark.
“That was a phenomenal save,” Purdy said.
Lumpkin County’s offensive pressure paid off when Russ Gaddis fired a free kick toward a streaking Johnny Martinez, who flicked the ball off his right foot and past Clark to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Lumpkin County’s Arlin Zanji, who scored the Indians’ first goal of the game, nearly tied the score with three minutes remaining, but once again Clark was able to come up with the save.
“He has gained a lot of experience this year,” Purdy said of Clark, who finished the game with seven saves. “That save at the end was just a great save.”
The end of the game was unlike the start, for it didn’t take long for the Falcons to prove why they were undefeated in Area 7-AAA.
From the opening whistle Flowery Branch controlled the ball by using an array of ball possessing skills and long throw-ins from Kyle Ellis to keep pressure on the Lumpkin County defense.
Those throw-ins paid off in the sixth minute when Philip Abrahamsen headed the ball past Lumpkin County goalie William Alaniz to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
Ellis and Abrahamsen hooked up once again 47 seconds into the second half. But this time instead of on a throw-in, Ellis played a nice through ball to Abrahamsen, who one-timed a shot past Alaniz.
The two goals by Abrahamsen proved to be the difference for the Falcons in their quest for the area title.
“We didn’t know what to expect before the season,” Purdy said. “But once we got some momentum by playing a very hard, a very hard out-of-region schedule, we knew we could be a good team.
“I just can’t say enough about these guys,” he added. “They fought to the end and they deserve this.”
The Falcons have one more area game remaining in their pursuit of an undefeated region season when they visit Chestatee to take on the War Eagles at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Lumpkin County visits West Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Flowery Branch girls 7, Lumpkin County 1
Lindsay Porter scored a career-high five goals to lead the Lady Falcons past Lumpkin County on Saturday in Dahlonega.
Three of those goals came in the first half to help Flowery Branch (11-5, 8-1 Area 7-AAA) to a 5-1 halftime lead.
Ali Welborn and Brittney Fleeman also scored first-half goals for the Lady Falcons.
Junior Laura Webber scored the lone goal for Lumpkin County (5-10, 2-6).
Flowery Branch plays host to Chestatee at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, with the winner claiming second place in Area 7-AAA. Lumpkin County visits West Hall at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.