For a second, the soccer ball sat still on the turf, kicked into the air by McIntosh junior Jacob Donaldson from the dark corner of a pitch, who was tucked away near the opposing Clarkston fanbase. Within inches of the ball, feet shuffled, arms locked with one another, and breaths quickened, and one McIntosh player saw an opportunity.
Junior defender Logan Brown had only scored one other time this season, in the game prior, and here was a ball, right next to his feet and only a few more feet from the goal.
“I told myself if it came to me I was going to finish it,” Brown said, “so I did.”
Brown’s goal, scored with one minute and 21 seconds left in the second overtime period of the 5A state championship game Friday at Mercer University, gave McIntosh (24-1) the go-ahead score and a 2-1 victory over the underdog Clarkston Angoras (17-2-2).
Junior goalkeeper Noah Slepicka handled one of many on-target shot attempts at the 35:46 mark in the first half. That shot came right at him, and it would be far from the most exciting save he would make in the half.
But first, Clarkston senior Lionel Tourodo fired a shot that curved into the upper right corner of the goal to give the Angoras a 1-0 lead with 25:12 remaining in the first half.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more frustrating first half than what they gave us,” McIntosh head coach Bunky Colvin said.
After a few missed opportunities earlier in the game, senior Dylan Keysar knotted the score at 1-1 after converting a corner kick from Donaldson.
Clarkston tried to retake the lead, but Slepicka transformed the goal into a backboard. Angoras sophomore Elie Tshiamala attempted to slide a shot inside of the bottom left post at 13:10 in the first half, but Slepicka dove to preserve a tie game.
At the six-minute mark, Clarkston junior Kahshay Sahlu took his turn, lasering an attempt at the upper right corner, but Slepicka leapt through the air and batted it down.
“Noah’s the best goalkeeper in the state. Period. No question about it,” Colvin said.
The score remained tied at halftime, and it would be long before either team would get that close to scoring again.
Slepicka palmed the few shot attempts that came his way in the second half, and a couple close throw-ins that Keysar tried to force towards the Clarkston goal late in regulation weren’t converted.
Neither team made progress in the first five-minute overtime period, but the mood shifted as the tied 1-1 score carried over into the beginning of the second overtime. The McIntosh girls emerged to watch their classmates go for the title sweep.
Both teams’ fans started cheering louder than they had all game, entirely aware that the next goal could very well be the deciding goal.
Keysar didn’t want a championship to be decided by penalty kicks. He dribbled down the sideline, toward the goal, and kicked the ball off a Clarkston player to force the corner kick.
Brown didn’t have to lob it, curl it, or angle it. He drove his foot through, calmly but forcibly, and immediately ran to the bleachers to celebrate with fans.
He and his teammates only had to wait 81 seconds to do it again, except this time the game was over, and McIntosh was a state champion for the first time in three years.
“I’ve won a lot of state championship in different ways,” Colvin said. “Maybe I’m emotional, but I feel like it’s the greatest one we’ve ever had.”
As McIntosh players sat in the bleachers, surrounded by fans, Clarkston players laid down face first in the turf, as if the sound of the buzzer had knocked them out.
“They’re so inspiring,” Colvin said of the diverse group of players who made a surprising run to the title game. “Their story is so incredible.”
Emotions were high for everyone after the game, but perhaps none as much as the McIntosh seniors, who won a state championship for the first time since their freshman year.
After two years ending a season with a loss, the Chiefs finish as champions once again.
“It’s taken me three years to get back here, and it feels amazing,” Keysar said, right before being tackled by senior teammate Christian Dattilo.