GW boys unbeaten state champions
BECKLEY, W.Va. - George Washington carried the burden of being undefeated all season, but the mantle was never too heavy for the Patriots to bear.
That proved true again Saturday afternoon as Peter Nelson converted a penalty kick in the 73rd minute after Parkersburg was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty box to send GW to a 1-0 victory in the Class AAA boys soccer state championship game at the YMCA Youth Sports Complex.
The Patriots (23-0-2), who were ranked nationally during the regular season, captured their third title after winning it all in 2007 and 2011.
"We never really looked two or three games ahead,'' said Nelson of GW's even-keeled approach. "It was always the next game. Even though a team had a bad record we were all focused on that team.
"Our coaches helped us out a lot. They really made us focus, which is a huge thing for our team. It was always in the back of our minds being undefeated, but we just blocked it out when we had to. We just had to keep pushing.''
Nelson, the designated player on penalty kicks for the Patriots this season, put the PK inside the lower-left corner and past diving Parkersburg senior keeper Reid Strobl. The No. 5 Big Reds (19-2-3) didn't mount much of an attack after Nelson cashed in. Strobl made two stops and only faced two shots, with one glancing off the post.
Saturday's match ended on a sour note as Parkersburg's players were visibly upset with the referee's call on the hand ball infraction.
Big Reds senior Evan Rhodes was given a red card a few minutes after the game ended. Then, after GW and Parkersburg shook hands, several of Parkersburg's players jawed with a group of officials who were preparing to take the field for the AAA girls championship game that followed. The contest featured three yellow cards (two on Parkersburg) and the red card. If Rhodes plays another sport, the red card suspension, which is two games, will carry over.
In addition, veteran Parkersburg coach Don Fosselman, who had to sit out the regional and Friday's semifinal because of two yellow cards he received in the sectional tournament final, declined to attend the press conference after Saturday's game. Fosselman, who has guided the Big Reds to six championships but has seen them finish runner-up the past two seasons, showed up in the waiting area outside of the press conference for a few moments, then left.
"It was hard fought both ways,'' said 14th-year GW coach Tom Hopper, whose squad lost to Parkersburg 1-0 in last year's state semifinal then beat the Big Reds twice in the regular season this year by 2-1 scores. "Someone was going to get a lucky break. I feel sorry for the other team losing on a PK like that.
"That's part of the game. We'll take it. It had been back and forth and I don't think either team could get into synch. It was a clear call. The kid just about caught [the ball].''
The Big Reds took it to the Patriots for most of the opening half, but GW senior goalie Garrett Phillips was there every time, making four saves.
In addition to going undefeated this season, GW also had an 11-game shutout streak to start the year.
"[Parkersburg was] bringing a lot of pressure, but my defense was playing a great game,'' said GW senior keeper Garrett Phillips, who registered his 19th shutout Saturday, with the last two coming in the state tournament. "[Parkersburg] was putting shots on me that I could handle.''
It was a clean sweep for Hopper this weekend. He also received the National Federation of Coaches Association Active Award before Friday's 1-0 semifinal win over Jefferson.
"I'm fortunate that award was given to me,'' said Hopper, "but it was really given to all of our coaches.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.