Notre Dame put the first and last ball in the net Thursday night at Chattanooga Christian, but in between those shots, the District 7-A/AA soccer championship match was the kind of barn-burner fans have come to expect when the Irish and Chargers meet in the postseason.
Second-seeded Notre Dame scored five minutes into the match, No. 1 CCS equalized 13 minutes into the second half, and a 4-2 advantage in the penalty-kick shootout gave the Irish the upset victory and the 7-A/AA title.
"I thought we played very well the whole game," Notre Dame coach Jim Schermerhorn said. "It was a very evenly-played, back-and-forth match. They had chances and we had chances. It was just a hard-fought game."
The fourth-ranked Irish, who lost to the third-ranked Chargers 1-0 during the regular season, started out strong with an early goal from Mark Koenig off a free kick. That lead gave Schermerhorn's players a boost of confidence that carried them into halftime with their advantage still intact.
"It was good, confidence-wise," Schermerhorn said of Koenig's goal. "To get an early goal in this game is always big, but we knew it certainly wasn't over."
Chattanooga Christian equalized in the 53rd minute on Carson Whitmore's header, and had several more dangerous opportunities during the remainder of regulation, but the match advanced to two 10-minute overtimes tied at 1-1.
"When the game began, we couldn't quite find a good rhythm," CCS coach Shawn Brower said. "A lot of that was just due to Notre Dame playing well. In the second half and overtime, I felt our play was good enough to come away with the win. We created enough opportunities and defended well, we just couldn't finish one."
In the second 10-minute overtime, each team sent a shot just wide of the goal, and CCS had another near miss on a set piece with 1:42 remaining in the second five-minute golden goal period.
When the match advanced to a shootout, both teams made their first two kicks, but the Chargers' third hit the post. The next shot from the Irish hit the crossbar, but the ball bounced straight down and inside the line to give Notre Dame a 3-2 advantage. After the next CCS attempt sailed over the goal, the Irish connected on their final PK and rushed to the goal to celebrate their victory.
"I always have confidence in these guys, but what a lot of people don't realize about a shootout is that those guys have just played 110 minutes," Schermerhorn said. "They're exhausted, and then they have all this pressure on them. People think it's just a simple kick, but it's not. It's a very tough thing to do."
This year's Notre Dame team is well-equipped to handle tough situations after playing a challenging regular-season schedule while battling injuries. Although the Irish brought just a 9-7-1 record into the district final, after getting their 10th victory, Schermerhorn said his team's record is no longer relevant.
"Once you get to this point, it's not about how many wins you have," he said. "It's about going out and winning the games."
Notre Dame will host District 8 runner-up Murfreesboro Central in a Region 4 semifinal Tuesday evening, while the Chargers (14-4-1) must travel to face district champion DeKalb County. Semifinal winners will meet Thursday for the region final, and those winners advance to Saturday's Class A/AA state sectionals.
After winning district, region and state titles last season, Chattanooga Christian now must re-group to keep its hopes of a repeat alive.
"We have a lot of soccer left in us," Brower said. "This was not the path we wanted to take, but thankfully there is still a path. We have to go up and take care of business, and I have total confidence that we can and will do that. We're a good team with veteran players. They're disappointed, but they're not hanging their heads."
(E-mail Jaime Barrett at email@example.com