By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

PEARL Just a freshman, Tupelo’s Curt Cockrell had never been put in position to kick a game-winning goal. Until Tuesday night.

Cockrell, a midfielder, scored with 8 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the match to lead the Golden Wave to a 2-1 victory over Pearl in the second round of the state high school soccer playoffs. The win also ended a year of frustration for Tupelo, which was eliminated by Pearl in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The victory, which upped Tupelo’s record to 17-3, sends it into Friday’s 4 p.m. semifinal match against Northwest Rankin at Hughes Field in Jackson. Tupelo beat Northwest Rankin 9-1 in its season opener.

Clinton and Harrison Central play in the other semifinal at 6 p.m. The winners play Saturday for the state championship.

“Josh (Beane) played it across. I don’t know if Clay (Roper) flicked it to me or if it was deflected off one of their players,” Cockrell said of his go-ahead goal. “I just finished it. I knew I had to place the ball in the net.”

Golden Wave first-year coach Ryan Webb said the fact that a freshman can kick the winning goal in a playoff game makes this Tupelo team special.

“Curt has as much touch as anybody on this team,” Webb said. “He handles himself very mature in pressure situations. That was a clutch situation. The ball was in front of the goal and he put it in with confidence.”

Pearl, which finished 15-5, took a 1-0 lead in the first half on a header by striker John Ball on a crossing pass with 4:03 remaining.

Tupelo tied the score at 1-1 early in the second half on a goal by sophomore fullback Jarrod McCord, who was running one-on-one with the Pearl defender.

Tupelo had at least nine shots on goal in the second half after spending much of the first half defending its goal.

“Pearl is the kind of team that is going to play a lot of long balls,” Webb said. “They are going to knock it long and run up front with some speed. They really took us out of our game plan, which is to play under control and play a lot shorter passing. We were missing something.”

Pearl’s offsides trap gave Tupelo fits in the first half, but Webb moved McCord up front to get some quicker balls through.

“In the second half we played our game better,” Cockrell said. “We picked up our play. We worked the ball better. In the first half we were playing kick ball.”

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