DRAFFENVILLE – Henderson County coach Benson Pryor called it luck. His Marshall County counterpart, Andy Pagel, said that was a generous assessment.
It was a combination of good effort and good fortune, plus a ball up the middle that Marshal sweeper Brock Herndon and goalkeeper Austin Droke could not clear before Henderson’s Noah Mills kicked it into the unguarded goal.
It was the decisive goal in a 2-0 Henderson County victory in the first round of the KHSAA state soccer tournament at Colburn Stadium Tuesday night.
Alec Calvert add a second goal for the Colonels, the state’s No. 10-ranked team, as time ran out.
“I’m gonna be honest – both goals were just luck,” Pryor said. “The first one, we were just lucky to poke it in. The second one was a deflection off their keeper, and our guy was there to put it in.
“We definitely got some lucky breaks.”
Pagel and Pryor are close friends, and the Marshal coach said, “It’s that time of year and his team earned those goals. As many times as they got through, the law of averages caught up with us.”
Henderson County took a 3-1 win over the Marshals Oct. 2 in a match which Pagel said was marred by three mistakes his team made, each of them leading to a Henderson County goal.
In the state tourney rematch, the Marshals fought one of the state’s better teams to a standstill until the 12:14 mark of the second half.
A through ball rolled past Herndon at the top of the box and as he turned to chase it, Droke ran to his right from the front of the goal. Both Marshals and Mills converged on the ball.
“We stopped it and it landed at his feet he kicked it in,” Herndon said simply.
For nearly 68 minutes, until that point, the Marshals handled the pressure and managed to test Henderson freshman goalkeeper Grant Wilson and the Colonel defenders.
“We kept attacking and attacking,” said Herndon, one of four seniors on the team. “We all thought we were gonna get one. Then, when they got the first goal, we didn’t give up.”
After Henderson scored, the Marshals moved Herndon from the sweeper position to midfield. Herndon had the only goal for Marshall County in the earlier game against Henderson County.
“We moved him up top and tried to push it up faster,” Pagel said.
The Marshals were able to generate a flurry of attacks in their attempt to forge a draw. Herndon headed the ball ahead to sophomore David Penney in a straight-on attack inside the 6-minute mark, but Henderson defended Penney’s attempt at a shot.
About a minute later, Penney booted a looping kick that hit the top of the goal. The shot roused a big Marshall County crowd, but a whistle for handling the ball had negated the try.
Another Marshal shot on goal needed a diving save by Wilson.
The game, a physical encounter all evening, got more physical in the final minutes. In quick succession, a Henderson player grabbed Herndon’s jersey to restrain him and later the two players tangled and fell to the ground.
“It seemed like no matter what we did, whoever got the ball, they were on our backs,” Herndon said.
Henderson also kept attacking relentlessly getting a pair of corner-kick opportunities to add to their total in the final 2:40.
The Marshals furiously defended those efforts.
“They pushed us harder than anybody has pushed us in a long time,” said Pryor, whose team moves on to the quarterfinals in Lexington Saturday with a 19-3-2 record.
“They had blinding speed,” Pagel said. “When you try to possess the ball, their goal is just to kick it downfield and chase it with their speed.”
The Colonels’ lineup featured a veteran club with strong legs.
Marshall County closed with a 17-7-2 mark, winning the Region 1 championship with a 2-1 victory over Heath last week.
“It was an awesome season,” Herndon said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates. We did our job in the region. I just wish we could’ve gone a little further.”