WATSON - Live Oak’s Eagle Stadium was looking for a reason to explode. Freshman Jackson Earle provided one.
Earle’s header in the 74th minute ignited the already energetic crowd into a frenzy and lifted the No. 16 Eagles to a 1-0 victory Saturday in the school’s first-ever home playoff game against No. 17 Helen Cox.
“Home playoffs have been something that we’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Earle said. “All the emotions came out after getting that pretty important goal. Everything going into it was just remarkable.”
Live Oak (15-11-3) travels in Division II regional action Thursday against defending state champion Holy Cross.
“That was a goal from day one,” Live Oak coach Zack Miller said. “There has never been a boys’ soccer home playoff game…we came so close every year and this year was no different. It meant everything to look up and see the crowd amped up with the horns playing loud. That’s why we worked so hard to get this home game. Our fans and the boys deserve it and it finally came true for them.”
Live Oak took the lead late with Earle’s header, but what really won them the match was a truly herculean effort from their defense.
Helen Cox (11-4-1) held a sharp advantage in terms of speed and developed several chances, but time and time again Live Oak’s defense held the line which saved their best defensive performance of the season when they needed it the most.
“We were trying to keep them there, hold them up until one of our other players could come in and help us out before they’d get a shot off,” Live Oak senior defender and captain Nick Magee said. “And if they did (get a shot off), then hopefully our goalkeeper Garret (Ferris) would save it. Which he did a few times and we’re very thankful for that.”
For most of the day, Live Oak’s offense struggled to deal with Helen Cox’s speed.
The Eagles had many passes that normally would have been successful erased with the Cougars’ back end speed which began to fade as the game progressed, opportunities began to open for the hosts.
Live Oak took 11 shots in the match, placing seven on target. Helen Cox fired off nine shots, but only landed three on goal.
“We knew it would be that kind of a game,” Miller said. “A 16 vs. 17 is almost always going to be a war. That’s what we saw out there, for sure.”
After a first half that was as evenly matched as possible, Live Oak opened the second half with two key chances in the first 90 seconds, but twice the shots glanced off the top off the crossbar.
“We just had to keep our heads up,” Earle said. “We missed them, but we had to keep it in our heads that we were going to eventually get that chance and put it away, which we eventually did.”
Helen Cox had its big chance 10 minutes later, a clear shot from inside the box that curved toward the back post.
Live Oak goalkeeper Garret Ferris was able to tip the ball but couldn’t reel it in. He turned around and yanked the ball off the line with not with a second to spare.
“The guy reared up to get ready to take the kick, so I was on my toes ready,” Ferris said. “Then I just reacted to the ball. Then I kept my calm and got the second ball. If you know you can tip it, you can get to where you can easily save it on the second time.”
With only six minutes left in the match, Live Oak got the shot in the arm it needed when Earle headed the ball into the net off a corner, helping to send the Eagles into second-round action for the second straight year, this time against Holy Cross
“There is not a deer in the headlights look on any player in that locker room,” Miller said. “They’ve played Jesuit. They’ve played Denham Springs. They’ve played the best and have gone toe to toe with them. And I tell you what, they’re hungry now. They want another home game.”
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