A quick-strike in the opening minutes, a penalty kick goal for both teams and a late defensive stand allowed Model’s girls to gain revenge for their only loss of the season Thursday afternoon in the middle school championship game with a 2-1 win over Rockmart.
While the game had lots of high drama in the waning moments, Model took most of the drama out of the first half behind solid offensive runs from Kyla Reynolds and Jennifer Espinoza.
Reynolds seemed to find open space for most of the first half making runs and crossing the ball in the Yellow Jackets box.
Less than two minutes into the game, Reynolds’s attack paid off with a Model goal, giving the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.
“I think when we scored the first goal it took a lot of pressure off of the girls,” Model coach Robby Dooley said. “Any time you get ascore first, it takes the pressure off you and puts it on the other team.”
Both sides would have more scoring chances in the opening half.
The Yellow Jackets had two solid chances in the first half.
The first came 15 minutes into the game when Model keeper Alexis Jackson made a save but had the ball slip away but was able to get it back before a Rockmart player could reach it.
Rockmart’s best chance of the half came when Montana Barber got loose in Model’s box. Her first shot was partially deflected, but she got the rebound and slammed the ball again only to have it bounce off the far post, allowing Model’s defense to clear it.
Late in the half, Reynolds again broke free and launched a solid shot at the goal, but Rockmart’s keeper managed to grab it for the save.
Six minutes into the second half, Reynolds again got loose on the outside edge of Rockmart’s box and was fouled in the box by a Yellow Jacket defender.
Model’s Espinoza buried the ensuing penalty kick in the right side of the goal and then punched the air in celebration with her right hand, giving Model a 2-0 lead.
Two minutes later, Rockmart’s Madison Bozydaj had a solid shoot snuffed by Jackson.
“Our goalie (Alexis Jackson) is a sixth grader. She really came through under pressure tonight,” Dooley said. “We always tell her if you can’t catch it, just grip it with your hands. Just to control it and then grab it when you can.”
Both offenses continued to have chances, but as time ran down Rockmart continued to press up hoping to get a goal.
“They’ve got a great player in 20 (Ashlyn Jay). We worked all week on guarding her,” Dooley said. “Madison Harper did a great job marking her. I’m really proud of her.”
The push paid off late when a Model player was called for a handball in the box. Bozydaj wasted little time on the penalty kick, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead to 2-1.
Rockmart wasn’t finished as Ashlyn Jay took a free kick from just outside the box and launched a near perfect strike at the goal, but Jackson was just able to get her hands on it for the save.
“Rockmart is a great team. I told my girls the game wasn’t over until the final whistle blew,” Dooley said. “I think they bought into that, and I’m just speechless for these girls right now.”
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t find the sting to equalize the game however and time expired and Model players streamed onto the field to celebrate the win.
“These girls have worked so hard this year. I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls. We have eleven eighth graders, and I’m going to miss all of them next year,” Dooley said. “I’m super proud of them. Our only loss this season was to Rockmart, so you always want revenge on the team that beat you.”