The Carrollton High School boys' soccer team saw its state championship dreams hit a halt in heartbreaking fashion for a painful postseason finish late Saturday evening at Grisham Stadium.
In a defensive battle between No. 1 seeds that went scoreless for 90 minutes, visiting Starr's Mill found a way to eke out an 8-7 victory that came down to penalty kicks in the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals, sending the Trojans to stunning, season-ending setback.
It was a contest where Carrollton (17-4) dominated possession for the majority of the night, but it couldn't convert on ample scoring opportunities, especially in the second half when the Panthers (13-7) were scrambling to defend the relentless attack.
In what proved to be a tormenting turn of events, the Trojans still had their chance to return to the state semifinals when the action shifted to penalty kicks.
After each squad nailed their first two, Starr's Mill keeper Andrew Cole stopped the Trojans' third attempt. With the Panthers making good on their first four attempts, the season fell on the shoulders of Carrollton keeper Brendon Williams.
On the fifth and final attempt from Starr's Mill, Williams got the key save, sending it to sudden death. Once again, Williams came up big by blocking the first attempt from the Panthers, but Cole countered with a stop of his own to keep Starr's Mill alive.
Both teams connected on the next three PKs and Starr's Mill proceeded to hit its fifth attempt and that's when it ended after Carrollton's fifth shot in sudden death sailed wide right of the goal, making for a tough pill to swallow for Trojan head coach Scott New and his troops.
"Unfortunately, that's the way the game has to end sometimes," New said. "We had a lot of opportunities and we just couldn't put it in the back of the net. They did a good job of defending. Starr's Mill, give them a lot of credit. They're a good team, they had a good game plan. When you get to PKs, it's anybody's game. You might as well flip a coin."
Although there were no words to ease the pain late Saturday night, New said once his guys have time to reflect on all they've accomplished, they'll be proud of the way they carried themselves and left it all on the field.
"They've had a fantastic year. This has been a great group, a great group of seniors and a great group of leaders. They've done a lot of things that we haven't done in a long time," New said. "You hate that it has to end that way. It happens. Life's lessons sometimes. There's nothing you can really say to make it any better. It's just been a great working group all year and I hate to see them go down this way."
Seeking a second consecutive trip to the state semifinals, it looked as though the Trojans were on course for that destination as they applied tremendous pressure on the Panther defense throughout the evening. Eventually, you had to figure one of those looks was going to find the back of the net, but it just never materialized.
Starr's Mill moves on to host Johnson of Gainesville in the final four after the Knights (16-2-2) defeated Union Grove on Saturday, 1-0.
"There's no gimmies. You have to take advantage of every opportunity that you get and there were a lot of opportunities out there (Saturday). We can replay them over and over, but the bottom line is we just were unable to get it into the back of the net," New said. "That happens and the other team can come in and steal one away."