A thick fog settled across Jane Terry Hoffman Field Thursday evening, and from it emerged Kamryn Kennedy with what might have been the best game of her career.
The Oneida junior, who overcame a serious off-the-field accident as a sophomore to continue playing soccer, recorded a hat trick in the Region 2-A championship game on Thursday, lifting the Lady Indians to a 5-3 win over rival Cumberland Gap.
Kennedy scored Oneida’s first goal, and then the last two, as she twice answered after Cumberland Gap had pulled to within one in an effort to tie the game and force overtime.
Oneida, meanwhile, defeated its nemesis for the second time in eight days after losing to the Panthers in the regular season.
The win means Oneida will host a substate game on Saturday, when Alcoa visits Hoffman Field. The Tornadoes were upset in the Region 1-A championship Thursday, 4-0, and will be without a key player who was red-carded in the second half of Thursday’s match.
This marks the fourth consecutive year that Oneida has faced Alcoa in the substate. Last year, in Blount County, the Tornadoes won 7-0. The last time the game was played at Oneida, in 2019, the Tornadoes won 2-0. The 2018 game saw Alcoa take a 7-1 decision.
If Oneida is successful in knocking off Alcoa on Saturday, it would end a streak of four consecutive state tournament appearances for the Tornadoes. It would be the Lady Indians’ first-ever state tournament appearance.
Oneida coach Phil Newport said his team went into Thursday’s game tired of the lack of respect they had been receiving, with most folks expecting Cumberland Gap to get back to the state tournament.
“The kids were determined to play a complete game and I felt we did that tonight,” he said. “I think we made a statement tonight and last Thursday that we were to be included in the conversation. We have a good program in our own right.”
Kennedy scored less than 10 minutes into the game to give Oneida a 1-0 lead. Cumberland Gap answered, and that’s the way it stood until late in the first half, when Aliyah Douglas scored on a direct kick from outside the box to put her team up 2-1.
Oneida extended the lead to 3-1 in the second half when Claire Burress scored on a long header.
Cumberland Gap answered, before Kennedy scored her second goal to make it 4-2. Again the Panthers answered, but again Kennedy extended the lead, scoring on a header in a one-vs.-one battle with the Gap goalkeeper with only minutes remaining.
“They again had issues with our quickness,” Newport said of Cumberland Gap.
Thursday’s game marked the second in a row in which Oneida had used some of its speediest players to mark Cumberland Gap’s top offensive weapons. Last week, sophomore Ali Smith played a big role. Thursday night, she was joined in the back by Caroline Keeton.
“I was conflicted about who to cover #17 and Caroline texted me last night and she wanted it,” Newport said. “I pondered that for a bit and concluded that was our best option. We zoned behind those two and Rory (Blevins). Jailyn (Anderson) and Kenlee (Duncan) cleaned up stuff in the back.”
The Panthers continued to play without Alana Stallworth, their outstanding sweeper, who has missed the postseason with a broken foot. But things evened up somewhat early in the second half when Oneida’s top offensive player, Douglas, left the game with an injury. She did not return.
Newport argued for a red card on the play. He felt that Douglas became tangled up with Cumberland Gap’s keeper because she was pushed from behind. In high school soccer, a tackle from behind when a player has a clear path to the goal is an automatic red card.
“I do not think player safety was taken into consideration on that play,” he said.
As for Stallworth’s absence, “I know everyone probably feels the absence of Alana Stallworth is the reason they have struggled against us — and sure it is a factor — but I play with the hand I am dealt,” Newport said.
Unfortunately for Oneida, it appears that Douglas may not be able to play in Saturday’s game against Alcoa. That was the case the last time the Lady Indians were well-positioned to defeat the Tornadoes, when Macy Dunlap was unable to play due to an injury.
Nevertheless, Newport said his team looks forward to the challenge.
“I’m super proud of the support and the kids’ efforts tonight,” he said. “We have overcome this team two times and we have done it the right way. This one got testy and the ref did not keep things clean late. We dug all night and were deserving of this championship.”