The budding soccer rivalry between Faith Christian and Carroll added another dramatic chapter Wednesday night, with the Eagles edging the Cougars 2-1 on penalty kicks in the Class A sectional semifinals at Benton Central High School.
The victory avenged Carroll’s shootout victory in last year’s sectional finals at Benton Central, Faith’s first season in IHSAA play.
Faith Christian (11-4) will now take on Delphi, a 2-1 winner over host Benton Central, in the sectional finals on Saturday. Carroll, which lost to Faith 1-0 earlier in the season, ends its season at 9-8-1.
“It feels great to win this game,” said Faith’s Sam Ewing, who knocked in the Eagles’ clinching penalty kick. “We’ve been practicing for this game, and we knew it would be the hardest game of the year. We were fortunate to have beaten them earlier in the season, but I love playing them.”
Faith goalie Will Gephart proved to be hero during the penalty kick session, stretching out to get enough of his fingers on an Elliot Packard kick to bat it out from the goal’s mouth in the second round of kicks.
“I saw his body was angling toward the right side, so I started moving in that direction, and it played out to where I got my hands out,” Gephart said. (After the block) I stood right away and I just screamed. I was pumping everybody up. That was awesome.”
Gephart was able to make another diving stop on Justin Wiloughby’s kick, clearing the way for his teammates. Zane Merkle, Daniel Rausch, Andrew Schumm and Ewing all made consecutive penalty kicks for a 4-2 Eagle advantage.
“My heart was doing flip-flops in my chest after Will made the first save,” Faith Christian coach Kevin Johns said. “I knew the guys we had going up there had been nailing their PKs in practice, and I had all the belief in the world that they would make them.”
It was a disappointing end for Carroll, which had repeatedly turned back Faith Christian’s scoring attempts in the second half. The contest had all the feel of the sectional final the two teams played last year.
Carroll, which subbed little over the course of the game, seemed to apply its best defensive pressure every time the Eagles got in scoring range.
The Cougars took a 1-0 lead on a Leonard Bradley shot from Alex Eldridge with 30:26 left in the first half. Carroll could only enjoy the edge for 15 seconds, as Faith’s Derrik Grass drilled a goal from about 20 yards to tie the game.
“It came down to one mental breakdown we had after our goal,” said Carroll coach Dave Falkenberg. “It was a hard-fought game, but I wouldn’t have expected anything less from them. They were definitely fresher. We lost two starters to season-ending injuries at the beginning of the year. Their rotation was much bigger than ours.”
Delphi (3-10-2) made school history with its first-ever sectional win against host Benton Central (0-11-1) in the first semifinal. Kenneth Zaldivar scored both of Delphi’s goals, including one on a corner kick that curled out of the reach of Benton Central goalie Patrick McMillan with 24:00 left in the game to give the Oracles the lead for good.
“I was very happy that it went in,” Zaldivar said. “I know this is the first time we ever won a sectional game, so I’m glad to be a part of that. The coaches have really helped me a lot. I did it for them and my teammates.”
Delphi coach Daniel Hernandez said he believes the Oracles will be able to challenge Faith Christian, who beat the Oracles 4-0 in a regular season game about three weeks ago.
“I think we can compete with anyone in the sectional,” Hernandez said. “What happened in the regular season really doesn’t have a bearing of what will happen in tournament play.”