FORTVILLE — Matthew McConnell didn’t leave the field until he thanked every last Greenfield-Central senior on Thursday night.
One by one, with an extended hand or an embrace, it was the least the Cougars’ head coach could offer for the efforts exhausted, not only after their 1-0 semifinal loss to Perry Meridian in the Class 2A Mt. Vernon Regional semifinal, but for the entire season.
“We lose two key seniors that played a lot (in Jack Sifferlen and Luck Tuttle), but we lose a lot from the other seniors, too, because they contributed so much into this team,” McConnell remarked after allowing himself time to reflect. “I couldn’t be more proud of our senior class. They will be missed.”
Finishing the season 13-3-1, the Cougars left nothing behind before succumbing to defeat for the first time in four matches.
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The team used late-match heroics and quick strikes early to win their last three, including back-to-back overtime shootouts to clinch the programs’ first sectional title since 2013 six days prior.
Against Perry Meridian, however, they fell victim to their own forte.
“One of the things we worked on all season was coming out quick, and boy, we just didn’t. We came out flat, and they came out fast,” McConnell said. “They’re a fast a team. That’s their brand of soccer.”
The Falcons (10-3-1) only needed 1 minute and 1 second to take a 1-0 lead in the first half, which would stand up as the match’s decisive score. Pressing the Cougars from the start, Perry Meridian’s attack found a crease and executed.
Robert Lenhrin collected a perfectly played through ball on the right side and streak into the box where he fired the match’s only goal with a hard liner into the back of the net with 38:59 left on the clock.
“We knew that they were fast, but we just didn’t have the composure the first minute and a half, and we paid for it,” McConnell said.
Fueled by several Burmese refugees, the Falcons controlled the match with their up-tempo style. When challenged they were quick to subdue the Cougars pressure up top with clean line-drive clearing kicks and relentless slide tackles and diving deflections.
“You can’t in a situation like that, match speed with speed. You have to match speed with brains,” McConnell said. “You have to play smart, which our boys have done all season. It just took us until around halftime to do it, and you saw it at the end of the first half an into the second. It was a tale of two halves.”
Perry Meridian fired more than 15 shots in the match and connected for more than 10 shots on goal, but the Cougars countered once they regained their composure.
Greenfield-Central roared back with eight shots on goal and nearly 10 shots, while making a shift on defense from a three-back set to four after taking senior Jack Sifferlen out of the net.
Replaced by junior Noah Hughes, Sifferlen helped keep the Falcons off the board the final 77 minutes of regulation before getting hit with a red card in the last two minutes.
“That’s the beauty of our depth. We can put Noah in there and feel comfortable,” McConnell said. “In the second half, Noah made some top-notch saves.”
Hughes’ highlight block came with 13:01 remaining in the second half as he thwarted a one-time pass from Boi Sang Om Thang to Van Bawi Thawng.
He held his ground again as Lenhrin charge the net and fired another shot on goal with 36:08 left in the match.
The Cougars worked to get a handful of clean looks, but Perry Meridian Trevor Byrd stonewalled several attempts for four saves, while a few other chances failed to unfold with passes narrowly falling off target or disrupted.
“We were pressing and getting it in there, but we just couldn’t get it to fall,” McConnell said. “It’s honestly one of the reasons they call it the beautiful game in the world. It’s just so crazy. You push and you push and try to get it, but sometimes you don’t get it to fall.”
The Falcons will move onto Saturday’s regional championship at 7 p.m. against No. 13 Center Grove, which beat Franklin Central 3-1 in the first semifinal.
Perry Meridian 1, Greenfield-Central 0
PM: Robert Lanhrin, goal; Trevor Byrd, 4 saves
GC: Jack Sifferlen/Noah Hughes, 7 saves