MACON — When it was over, the Jefferson girls’ soccer team went over to its crowd for one last standing ovation.
Their Dragons didn’t win, but the fans who made the trip appreciated the gutsy effort they witnessed no less.
Jefferson (14-4-1) fell to powerhouse Marist 1-0 in overtime Thursday (May 5) at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in the Class AAAA finals. The Dragons were playing for a state soccer championship for the first time in school history.
“Could that have been probably one of the best finals? Absolutely,” Jefferson coach Molly McCarty said. “I’m not going to shy away from saying that. I think we fought hard to the end.”
Similarly, senior forward Abbey Eison said the team left everything out on the field.
“I think we gave it all that we had,” she said. “There’s nothing else we could have given.”
Marist’s Mary Margaret Fligg scored the game’s only goal in the 84th minute — during the first overtime period — striking a perfectly-placed long ball that traveled high into the frame and ended up being the game-winner.
McCarty said Fligg simply hit an incredible shot.
“I think that’s the most beautiful shot in high school soccer I’ve ever seen,” she said.
The coach said her team had its own scoring opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.
“I think we had three or four chances where we could have just tapped it in,” McCarty said. “But that’s soccer.”
Dragon goal keeper Ella Sellers finished with six saves on the night and recorded a clean sheet during regulation. Sellers, who only surrendered two goals during the postseason, came up with a crucial stop early, diving to her left and batting away a penalty kick attempt from Elle Jarrells in the ninth minute to maintain a scoreless tie.
McCarty praised her freshman keeper.
“Her composure is just unbelievable,” she said.
McCarty added that she was proud of her entire squad for sending the game to overtime with a chance to win.
“We knew we had 20 more minutes left,” she said.
The 100-minute game differed greatly from Jefferson’s previous encounters with Marist. The Dragons lost to the War Eagles 6-1 in 2017 in the semifinals and 7-1 in 2018 in the first round of the playoffs.
Had Thursday’s game gone to penalty kicks, McCarty said she liked her team’s chances.
“Because we practice it all the time,” she said. “The girls know their assignments. They know where they put the ball. We watched PKs on them. But it didn’t happen. And, for us to come down here (in) the heat, we battled it, our girls just laid it out. I’m not one bit disappointed in them.”
Jefferson was making its first-ever state finals appearance after having knocked off three No. 1 seeds on the road during the tournament and traveling well over 1,000 postseason miles. McCarty said her team was battle-tested.
“If I ever have to go fight in a war, I want every one of those girls behind me, and my assistant coaches and everybody who helped get us here,” she said.
McCarty said she believes the program will be back for more.
“This isn’t going to be the only time we make it to a state championship game,” she said.
Meanwhile, Eison said this is a season and team she’ll cherish.
“It’s definitely a year I’ll always remember,” she said. “Going into my college years, I’m super excited, but this is a team I’ll never forget, and I’m so thankful for every single one of them, and I’m definitely going to miss them, but we killed it.”
McCarty praised the contingent of Jefferson fans that made the two-plus hour drive to Macon to watch the program play for a state championship.
“Our community showed up tonight,” she said. “It gives you chills when you look up and you’ve got more people than Marist does.”
PRAISE FOR ASSISTANT COACHES
McCarty was highly complementary of her coaching staff and pointed to the collaborative effort between all the coaches.
“It isn’t me being the dictator,” McCarty said. “We are all collectively coaching on that sideline and the girls know that … Tonight, we were able to counter a lot of things because we had 10 pairs of eyes out there.”