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LEXINGTON — After using their feet to outpossess North Hardin in the first half, the Boone County Rebels used their heads to rally by the Trojans.
Down a goal at intermission thanks to senior center midfielder Elijah Linscott, the 9th Region Tournament champion Rebels scored twice off headers in a 10-minute span in the second half to surge past the 5th Region champion Trojans, 2-1 in the KHSAA State Tournament quarterfinals Saturday at Henry Clay.
“We’re grateful that we made it here and we couldn’t ask for much more,” Linscott said. “It was just two unlucky goals against a great Boone County team.”
Early on, it was the Rebels (20-3) who were unlucky. Junior midfielder Evan O’Hara, the team’s leading scorer, had a shot in the opening 5 minutes ring off the crossbar. Less than 6 minutes later, his bicycle kick missed just left of the open net.
Boone County outshot the Trojans by eight in the first half, but it was North Hardin (19-7) which went into the break with the lead after Linscott finished off senior Devin Sowells’ long left-side throw-in with just 18.5 seconds left before halftime.
“I didn’t expect it to go that far,” Sowells said of his ninth assist of the season, which took a bounce off the turf and right to the unmarked Linscott, who scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the year.
But because of the way the game was being played, North Hardin veteran coach Jim Stone looked at the advantage like fool’s gold — it wasn’t going to last.
“It was a steal of a goal for us to get that,” Stone said. “Devin made a nice throw-in to Elijah, who finished. But even then I was thinking, ‘Wow. They totally dominated possession and yet we snuck a goal in.’”
Stone used five midfielders at times to try to counteract the Rebels’ strong midfield play, but Boone County didn’t seem bothered by the more-congested midfield.
“They out-possessed us and we paid for it when we gave up two head goals,” Stone said. “They were the aggressor. They were definitely the aggressor because we could not get the ball out to our wings and we got too defensive minded.
“We were concerned about the middle of the field and they just took the middle of the field away from us,” he added. “Their midfielders made the difference this time.”
Instead of growing frustrated with their lack of finishing, the Rebels continued to press in the second half. They took five of the first six shots after halftime before tying the score with 21:53 left in the game as sophomore forward Brett Mayberry headed in a right-side cross from senior midfielder Matt Melzer. It was Mayberry’s ninth goal of the year and coincidentally, it came off Melzer’s ninth assist.
The header hit the right post before crossing the goal line.
With 12:23 left in the match, the Rebels scored the go-ahead goal on a similar cross. Only this time it was O’Hara finally scoring off a pass from senior midfielder Rian Alt Salih.
“We had a couple of breakdowns,” said North Hardin senior keeper Tyler Malcolm, who saved eight of the Rebels’ 10 shots on frame. “That’s all it takes.”
Both teams had history making seasons as the Trojans advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time and the Rebels advanced to the state semifinals for the first time.
Boone County is unbeaten in its last 18 games since losing to the Trojans, 2-1 in the regular season. Linscott’s goal was the first allowed in five games by the Rebels’ defense.
The loss will be hard to dampen the Trojans’ magical season in which they ended their seven-year region tournament drought, won their first district tournament title in nine years and appeared in State for the first time since 1991.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Linscott said. “It’s unreal.”
Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at (270) 505-1758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.