By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)
For a while, it looked as though T.C. Williams would cruise past an undefeated Washington and Lee squad in the regional championship game Thursday.
With T.C. Williams up 3-0 at halftime, a visiting fan walked out the stands grumbling, “Man, I’m so disappointed. We didn’t even show up today.”
But the visiting Generals came to life in the second half. The team, which beat T.C. handily earlier in the year, scored two quick goals and put a scare into the Titan’s fans, who knew 10 minutes was plenty of time for the Generals to catch up.
If only, that is, they didn’t have to contend with T.C.’s Eryk Williamson. The junior, who found the net three times already in the game, scored with a little more than eight minutes left.
“We got a little nervous because we can come back on teams, too,” Williamson said as he was surrounded by fans and family after the 5-2 victory. “So we felt, yeah, they possibly can come back here. So we tried make sure everybody was calm and close it out.”
About 90 seconds before Williamson’s decisive fifth goal, the Generals seemed poise to save their undefeated season. A Generals defender dribbled fast along the far side of the field past the suddenly loud visiting bleachers, where Generals fans had woken up to the possibility of a startling comeback.
As the player pushed into T.C. territory, he fired the ball off toward a teammate about 15 yards in front of the Titans’ goal, but the pass didn’t connect. T.C.’s Kevin Ortez turned a quick steal and dribbled right past the same Generals fans in the opposite direction.
He passed to Williamson about 20 yards in front of the Generals’ goal. He plowed past a defender, who had little left to do but wrap his arms around Williamson’s waist. The referee blew the whistle on the play.
Williamson got a penalty kick, but it bounced off of a Washington and Lee defender. It landed around midfield where sophomore Ashenafi Desta took possession of the ball just long enough to find a cutting Williamson.
In familiar territory about 20 yards from the goal, Williamson dribbled past a lone defender. Then, it was just Williamson and the keeper. Five yards in front of the net, Williamson seemed ready to pull the trigger on his shot. He dribbled it softly off his left foot as he reared back with the right.
The keeper made his move. He sprawled out in front of Williamson at the top of the goalies box.
But instead off firing a powerful kick, Williamson tapped the ball with his right and sidestepped softly a step to his left, dribbling right past his adversary.
All the keeper could do was turn around and watch. There was nobody left — just Williamson and a wide-open net. As he tapped the ball in, a defender kicked the net in frustration and the goalie pounded the ground.
Williamson’s only celebration was a smile as teammates rushed up to congratulate him.
After the game, junior Pat Kelly said this was a different matchup. He said the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Generals earlier this season happened back when T.C. was suffering through injuries.
“I think we were more prepared and we worked harder in this game,” Kelly said.
T.C. coach Marty Nickley said the score didn’t quite tell the story. He said the Titans were never comfortable against the Generals, perhaps mindful of that 4-0 defeat.
“They’re a great team,” Nickley said. “They’re going to states and somebody’s going to have to play them and they’re tough.”
But T.C. is going to states next week, too, for the first time in more than a decade.
And junior Emir Cmovic is adamant that Titans aren’t finished yet.
“We want to keep this going,” he said. “We want to win states and make some history.”