CUMBERLAND GAP, Tenn. | A controversial call late in the game negated a strong comeback by Oneida and handed round one of District 3-A’s most anticipated showdown to homestanding Cumberland Gap Thursday.
The Lady Indians were called for a penalty in the box during the waning minutes of Thursday’s game, which awarded Cumberland Gap a penalty kick that the Panthers cashed in on to score a 5-4 win.
The PK came with just three minutes remaining, allowing Cumberland Gap to escape with a win that will almost certainly give the Panthers home field advantage in next month’s district tournament.
The late goal capped a high-scoring second half, one that saw the two teams combine for eight goals after only one goal was scored in the first half.
That first half goal was scored by Cumberland Gap in the 20th minute, almost exactly at the midway point of the half.
The Lady Indians didn’t have a lot of shot opportunities; they had just two in the first half and six in the second half. But they made the most of the limited looks at the goal, with Claire Burress, Alexea Jones, Aliyah Douglas and Kamryn Kennedy — all seniors — each scoring a goal.
Oneida coach Phil Newport did not dwell much on the controversial call that decided the game, though he did indicate his displeasure with a series of whistles throughout the night.
“I was really proud of the way we managed to respond throughout the night,” Newport said. “We cleaned up the number of scores they were getting by free balls awarded on various calls that seemed to continually go against us, and defensively we played better than the score indicated.”
Thursday’s game was the first one back for Burress, and she made the most of it with a goal in the 45th minute to tie the game.
“We obviously stood in against a fine offensive team,” Newport said. “I thought our defensive management in the first half kept us right with them. Our two shots were good looks.”
Cumberland Gap responded to Burress’s goal, which was assisted by Jones, by putting two balls in the back of the net to take a 3-1 lead with just under 17 minutes to play.
From there, Oneida battled back. Jones scored an unassisted goal with 11 minutes remaining to cut the deficit to one. Cumberland Gap answered, but Douglas scored off an assist by Jones moments later, and Kennedy scored off a deflection less than 90 seconds after that. Suddenly, the game was tied.
“We really answered in the second half,” Newport said. “It was a very relentless effort from my bunch.”
One of Cumberland Gap’s goals was an own goal. The Panthers also scored on a pair of set pieces.
“They threw defenders at Aliyah to disrupt her, as we expected,” Newport said.
Newport was upset that a whistle didn’t blow when Jones had her feet taken out from under her in the box, which would have resulted in a PK for Oneida.
“I thought the kids fought well in instances where they could have let up since a lot was going against us,” Newport said. “We had a number of players that did fantastic for us tonight and to me this was one of our better efforts against a strong team. Obviously we are on a collision course with them several more times. We did not get the results we wanted but it was a great effort out of my team.”
Newport said his team had nothing to hang its head about.
“Some of the players thought their individual efforts may have cost us the game, but I never thought that was the case,” he said. “The own goal, the player redirected the ball that was going to be on the Cumberland Gap forward’s feet so she had to make a play on it. The redirect was narrowly inside the post but she was doing what anyone would and tried to shut off the cross. (Ayla) Sims beat herself up on the PK, but she moved correctly and narrowly missed closing the shot off — just missing the stop. I find no fault in either because they were both bang-bang plays that did not go our way. We lost as a unit tonight and I was proud of our kids’ effort.”