By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – Was Rebekah Miller inside the box when she was fouled with less than five minutes to play in the game? Should there have been a foul called against his team inside its own box with just a minute left?
Those are the questions that Pontotoc High girls soccer coach Marty Pettit and Miller will be pondering for quite some time after Monday night’s 2-1 loss to Northeast Jones in the MHSAA Class 4A state championship game at Clinton High School.
With the contest tied at 1, Miller – a forward for Pontotoc – was fouled on the right-hand side of the field near the edge of the Northeast Jones box with around four minutes remaining.
Instead of being awarded a penalty kick for being fouled in the box, the officials ruled that the freshman player was just outside of the box when she was fouled and therefore the Lady Warriors should be awarded a free kick.
Miller, who wasn’t able to get off a shot when she was fouled, said she was certain that she was in the box because her team had to retrieve the ball well inside the box after the whistle.
“They came from behind,” Miller said about being fouled. “I was dribbling and they came from behind and pushed me.”
Some three minutes later, the Lady Tigers’ Katie Johnson was fouled inside Pontotoc’s box and her team was awarded a penalty kick.
Brooke Blackledge then buried it in the right side of the Pontotoc cage to give the Lady Tigers (17-4) the game-winning tally and their second consecutive 2-1 state championship victory over the Lady Warriors (18-6-1).
Northeast Jones outlasted Pontotoc by the same score in sudden-death overtime of last year’s 4A state title game. This year’s game was originally scheduled to be played Saturday morning, but was postponed to Monday after Pontotoc’s semifinal match with Newton County was delayed until Saturday by bad weather.
“I was dribbling and she clipped my ankles from the back,” Johnson said of being fouled by a Pontotoc defender. “I didn’t stumble too badly, but I started to fall. When I tried to cut back, she pushed me and it was a foul.
“I started to stop, but then I didn’t know if he would call it. So, I tried to keep going and she pushed me some more.”
Johnson orchestrated the first goal of the game with a nice feed to Lacy Guthrie with 26:06 left in the second half.
“I got the ball passed to me and when I was dribbling down the field I saw Lacy make a perfect run for the cross-through,” said the sophomore forward. “So, I crossed it on through to her and I ran back for the (return pass), but she scored the goal. It was a great run.”
And when things started to look awfully bleak for the Lady Warriors, they still didn’t give up.
With less than seven minutes remaining, senior midfielder Hannah Drope insisted on taking the free kick from 25 yards out on the left-hand side of the field.
‘I want to take the shot’
Pontotoc’s Pettit wanted Drope’s younger sister, Shelby, to handle the kick as she normally does.
“In that situation there, with that free kick in that area, we have a set-piece that we are going to play,” Pettit said. “We have a play that we have worked on and done and done and played and played. We have a set-piece and Shelby was to take that ball.
“Hannah then looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I want to take the shot.’”
After first refusing her request, Pettit couldn’t say no again to his senior player. Good thing he didn’t.
Hannah Drope drilled the free kick off the Northeast Jones defense and into the net to give the Lady Warriors a second life.
Unfortunately for Pontotoc, though, controversy would rear its head at the end, and instead of fielding questions about how great Monday’s game was, Pettit was left answering questions on whether or not a foul should have been called against his team with a minute remaining.
“Did we hit her? Yeah,” Pettit said about Johnson being fouled in the final minute. “We hit her, but she maintained advantage and that’s kind of what I’m going on. … She never lost her advantage.
“That’s all I can say. That’s all I know.”
n Game summary, Page 2B