The Meridian Star
That was the only thing on the mind of Philadelphia forward J.H. Smith while lining for a penalty kick with four minutes left and his team tied with Forest 2-2. Smith, who had connected on a penalty kick earlier in the second half to tie the game stood a mere 12 yards away from winning the game and advancing to the Class 1A/2A/3A North State championship.
“My only thought was make this next goal,” Smith said. “The last one was definitely more pressure than the first one, but I shot the same shot and just said to myself do the same thing you did last time.”
Just as before, Smith found the back of the net, allowing Philly to beat Forest 3-2 and secure a date with South Pontotoc on Tuesday with a trip to Clinton for the state championship on the line.
“That was an unbelievable game,” Philadelphia coach Adam Huddleston said. “I don’t know if I have seen anything like that this season. The effort after the 15 minute mark, we just poured everything into it. I am so proud of my boys today, so proud.”
Forest struck first in the game’s seventh minute when the Bearcats buried a penalty kick in the back of the net to go up 1-0.
From there, both teams would generate opportunities. Philly almost connected on a set-piece opportunity midway through the first half, when Abe Mars broke free in the box but was unable to convert.
The Tornadoes received their first goal on another set-piece opportunity in the 27th minute mark for midfield, as Smith lifted the ball into the box, finding forward T.J. Hudson for the equalizer.
The celebration would not last long for the Tornadoes, as Forest responded six minutes later with its second goal when a mixup in the box allowed the Bearcats to knock in an easy shot. Forest headed into the break with a 2-1 lead.
The Bearcats shut down Philly until 16 minutes into the second half,when Mars slipped past the defense for a break away into the box. Mars was unable to finish the play though, as his shot ricocheted off the right post and back into play.
However, Philly was dealt another break instantaneously. In the process of trying to clear the ball, the Bearcats committed a penalty in the box, allowing Smith to step up for the first of two big penalty conversions on the afternoon.
“Normally in games like this it’s going to come down to penalty kicks either way,” Huddleston said. “Everybody knew both teams were going to be prepared for this game. This has always been a big rivalry for both schools.”
After Smith put the Tornadoes up 3-2 in the games final minutes, Forest stormed back for one last opportunity.
The Bearcats almost pulled the equalizer in stoppage time, when Philadelphia keeper Malek Moore slipped while in the box, leaving the left corner of the goal exposed. Forest was unable to convert, however, as its shot sailed wide left of the goal, securing the win for the Tornadoes.
“Please clear the ball, was the thought going through my head,” Huddleston said. “That’s all I could think of, get the ball out or get it out of bounds.”
Philly will now host South Pontotoc on Tuesday with only two wins separating the team from a state championship.
“It unbelievable,” Smith said. “I never expected us to get this far. Last year we were so good, and playing in the summer we weren’t as good. Now we have made it this far. We just got to keep playing and keep getting the objective done.”