WATKINSVILLE — As an Oconee County resident, Matt Maier’s life may have gotten a little easier.
His Jackson County girls’ soccer team defeated Oconee County 2-0 Friday (Feb. 28) on the road, giving Maier his first coaching victory over the Warriors in his five years on the job.
“Just like all the other games, I’ve ran into some parents beforehand, and just chit-chatting with them, knowing that their team has always gotten the best of us, and so now this time, we got the best of them,” said Maier, who said he lives six minutes away from Oconee County’s stadium. “I thought the girls played really hard. We played smart soccer. We just now need to do it for 80 minutes instead of just 60 or 55 minutes.”
This was actually Maier’s first victory over either Oconee County or North Oconee. He was a combined 0-7 against the Oconee County School System entering Friday.
In beating the Warriors, the Panthers, ranked No. 4 in Class AAA, ended a losing streak that predates Maier’s time at Jackson County. He said the win was "almost a bragging rights sort of thing."
“This is almost like a rivalry game because our counties are right up to each other,” Maier said. “Heck, we’re only like 35 minutes away. So, these girls all know each other, and they’ve all played on club teams. So, yeah, there’s a little bit of a rivalry, so it’s nice to actually be on the winning side this time instead of the losing side.”
Jackson County (5-0-1) beat the Warriors — ranked No. 10 in Class AAAA — despite losing one of its top players, Lindsey Fowler, to an injury in the fourth minute.
The Panthers took care of all their scoring in the first half, while goal keeper Avery Wortel recorded another clean sheet, her fourth in sixth games.
Reagan Bewley got the Panthers on the board in the 15th minute, sliding a shot inside the far post.
“I’ve got to credit Reagan, because that’s something that we’ve been really talking a lot about,” Maier said. “Because we’ve had a lot of shots go right at the goalie, and we’re just talking about ‘pick a corner.’ For her to be able to do it in a bunch of traffic … that was a really good goal for her.”
Then in the 25th minute, Kennedy Harris received a long ball from Montgomery Garland and hit a shot across the box that struck the far post and bounced in.
“It was funny because I told the girls we do not want to send long balls because Oconee plays their line deep,” Maier said. “And, sure enough, we play some long ball, and Kennedy puts it (in) … That’s a really nice goal that she put in. I can’t wait to see it on film because that’s going to look really good.”
A third goal, a score from Kennedy Habeeb in the 75th minute, was waived off due to an offsides call.
“Just a little bit on the disappointing side that we couldn’t get more going in the second half,” Maier said. “But it kind of was what it was. We played. It wasn’t like we weren’t trying. I’m sure that Oconee was making a little bit more of a defensive adjustment because we were really actually getting a lot of good chances in that first half.”
Jackson County’s win saved the Panthers from a Sunday practice, Maier revealed.
“Yeah, if we hadn’t won this game, we were going to practice on Sunday to try to clean stuff up, because this is a game we really wanted to win, and we thought we could win,” Maier said. “So, to come out and actually win it is a really nice thing to happen.”
With the streak broken against Oconee County, Jackson County seeks to do the same against North Oconee as the Panthers return to action against the Titans Tuesday (March 3) at 7 p.m. on the road.
“It happens every year … It’s just the way that it works out on the schedules that we just play them back-to-back,” Maier said. “Now, we’ve got a tough game over there.”
•OCONEE CO. 3, JACKSON CO. (BOYS) 0: Facing the defending Class AAAA state champions, the Jackson County boys (4-3) trailed 1-0 for most of the night until Oconee County put the game away with two scores in the final 12 minutes.
Danny Castro led the Warriors with two goals, providing the game’s first score in the third minute and then netting the final goal in the 75th minute. Carter Nichols scored in the 68th minute.
Jackson County returns to action Tuesday (March 3) at home against Walnut Grove at 7 p.m. as the boys’ and girls’ teams will face different opponents at different locations on that night.