When it comes to soccer, who runs the state? That was the refrain on Saturday, and it’s hard to debate the answer after the Chief boys held up their end of a state championship doubleheader, beating the Starr’s Mill Panthers 3-2 in a fierce showdown to give McIntosh its fifth soccer title sweep in school history.
It was a return to the top for the Chiefs, who celebrated the win and the seventh state championship in team history, after last year’s bitter title game loss to Johnson.
“It’s awesome. I mean it really feels like the best day ever,” said McIntosh head coach Bunky Colvin. “I can’t be more proud of these guys. I don’t think anybody thought we could pull this off. We were the underdog, and the guys did it. They fought. They fought hard.”
As was to be expected between two powerhouse schools that were only separated by one goal in their regular season matchup, the match was tightly contested throughout. McIntosh’s attack had looks in the first 10 minutes, but two shots missed the mark, and keeper Michael Lantz turned away another attempt.
It was Starr’s Mill that struck first, with Austin Morris playing it up the right flank to Noah Pavel, who beat the keeper for a 1-0 advantage in the 16th minute.
Controversy struck in the 24th minute, when Lantz attacked a shot high in the air and collided with a McIntosh forward and one of his own defenders and landed awkwardly. Starr’s Mill coach Mike Hanie was livid no foul was called, and he only got hotter when moments later the Chiefs stole the ball from Lantz, who mistakenly thought the play was dead. Senior Baba Agbaje scored to knot the game up 1-1, and Lantz would have to leave the game on an injury cart, dealing a crushing blow to the Panthers.
Just over six minutes later, the Chiefs grabbed their first lead of the match on a beautifully executed sequence where Tommy Kim lobbed the ball over the top of the defense to freshman Jackson Johnson on the right flank, who crossed the ball back to Jack Gentry in front of the goal where the sophomore sliced his shot into the upper right corner for a 2-1 lead.
The 2-1 margin held until midway through the second half when an aggressive attack by Agbaje blocked a clear attempt, then he gathered the ball on a breakaway and beat the keeper for a 3-1 lead.
“It’s fantastic, really fantastic. I can’t even believe it. This team has worked so hard, and when we really needed it, we came together to win, and the glory goes to God,” said Agbaje. “Really, I don’t know what to say right now, I’m just so ecstatic that we did it. I couldn’t ask for a better ending.”
Undeterred, the Panthers kept pushing, and with 13:11 to play, senior Ryan Shanahan took the ball at midfield and singlehandedly wove his way through the Chief defense, firing a laser into the net to pull back within one goal at 3-2.
Starr’s Mill stayed on the attack in the waning moments but could not garner another goal, as McIntosh celebrated the victory.
“It feels wonderful,” said senior captain Erik Malasek. “It’s a dream come true. I want to thank God, and I want to thank my teammates and my coaches for making all of this possible.”
The Panthers were stopped in their bid for their first title since 2010 when they beat the Chiefs in a thriller.
“2010 was a wound that’s hard to heal, when we lost to these guys in the final in PKs,” said Colvin. “It healed a little bit today.”
The win came with a touch of bittersweetness as it marks the end of a respectful rivalry between Colvin and Hanie, who is retiring at the end of a storied career at Starr’s Mill.
“The only negative I have in my heart is I feel bad for Mike, my friend and a great guy,” said Colvin.
The bottom line is the Chiefs are the champs, and they climbed to the top by beating top teams like the Panthers.
“We were determined. Our main goal was to just give everything we had today whatever happened, and the guys never quit. They just kept fighting for it,” said Colvin. “We beat a very good Starr’s Mill team today, and I thought we did it with class, and I thought we did it the right way, and I’m really proud.”
On another state championship night dominated by the Chiefs, Malasek put a capper on it.
“There’s only one school that runs the state in soccer, and that’s McIntosh,” he said. “It’s such a spirited program, and I’m so lucky to be a part of it.”
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