As time wound down during regulation play in the Division I girls’ soccer state championship between Mt. Carmel and Byrd, it seemed inevitable that the game would go into overtime.
The score was tied at 1-1 and no team had mounted a serious offensive threat in 39-plus minutes of the second half.
Then events took place that both teams will be talking about for years to come.
Mt. Carmel’s Katherine DeHoog, playing in her first game this season after suffering an ACL injury, lined up for a free kick on the left side of the field and about 30 yards away from the Byrd net. Her shot was on target, but bumped off the bottom of the crossbar and fell straight down to the feet of junior forward Hope Hoffman.
Hoffman reacted quickly, and sent a sliding shot into the back of the Byrd net with only seconds remaining to break the tie and gave the Cubs a 2-1 state championship victory at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans City Park.
Players for third-seeded Mt. Carmel erupted, then stormed the field as soon as the final whistle sounded. Those from top-ranked Byrd sat in tears and disbelief at different spots on the field, trying to fathom what had happened so suddenly.
After losing in last year’s final, it was the first state title since 2012 for Mt. Carmel (21-1-7.) Byrd (29-2-1) was making its first championship appearance since 1996.
“We had two overtime playoff games already this year, so we knew we didn’t want to go back into overtime,” Hoffman said. “We have the utmost respect for that organization (Byrd). They played a great match. I’m just so proud of our team and that we were able to come through this.”
DeHoog, another junior, certainly made things easier for Hoffman with her accurate free kick.
“Obviously being my first game back, I wanted people to know that I wasn’t down after my ACL tear,” she said. “I was hoping for a free kick. Last year, I was able to make some pretty big goals on free kicks. I just had to finish it, because it was tied. I needed to do this. I’m just so glad Hope finished it.”
Byrd controlled possession in the opening minutes, and got on the board on only its second shot of the match. On the play, Hope Milletello streaked up the left side in the fourth minute, and fired a perfect cross to just in front of the net. Kyra Montes was there for the pass, and she bumped a shot into the bottom right corner that gave the Yellow Jackets an early 1-0 lead.
The Cubs got the goal back in the 23rd minute when Hoffman gathered a ball from Sydney Blue and knocked it from about 12 yards out into the top left corner.
Tying the score seemed to provide Mt. Carmel with some momentum. Slowly but surely, the ball remained more and more on the Byrd side of the field, but the Cubs couldn’t take the lead before halftime. Their best looks came in the 36th minute when Giselle Aguilera fired a shot toward Byrd’s goal that glanced off the right post, and in the 39th minute when Maddy Murret’s attempt ricocheted off the crossbar.
Byrd outshot Mt. Carmel 6-4 in the half.
Neither team could find much of an offensive rhythm in the second half, with each team taking four shots after halftime – the final one, of course, being Hoffman’s sliding shot that clinched a championship.
“The girls just kept playing, and playing, and playing,” Mt. Carmel coach Pavlos Petrou said. “We talked at halftime about how good things happen if you work hard. And sure enough it did. (You always hear play to the last whistle,) and this was it.”
The loss was a tough one for Byrd, which had outscored opponents 126-16 this season.
“No one wants to finish second,” Byrd coach Lisa Levermann said. “I can go on and on about how great of a season we had, the leadership we had. It was a battle, and we didn’t give up.”