CORNELIUS – Hough High girls’ soccer stands alone in Mecklenburg County history.
The Huskies are the first team to appear in three consecutive N.C. 4A championship games, a feat they clinched with a 2-1 home victory in sudden death against Myers Park on May 27.
Hough fell behind 1-0 in the second half of the semifinal, but rallied and won when sophomore Alex Denny headed in a goal in the second sudden death period. The teams had played 80 minutes of regulation, 20 minutes of overtime and a five-minute sudden death period. Denny’s goal came with 74 seconds left in the second OT period.
Hough (24-0-2) advanced to the title game against Panther Creek (22-0-1) at 8 p.m. May 31 in Raleigh with the late heroics. As time was winding down, it appeared the teams were headed to penalty kicks. But Hough forced a corner kick. Senior Nicole Duncan whipped the ball through the goal crease. Hough’s Emmily Cowie, on the far end of the goal, deftly headed the goal to Denny, who tapped it in to set off the celebration.
“I was just crashing the goal and Emmily Cowie went all for it,” Denny said. “She headed it to me. It was such a surreal moment. It was awesome.”
Hough, the state’s top-ranked team, won the state title in 2012 and lost in the final last year. Myers Park (23-3) lost to Hough for the third time this season. The Mustangs took a 1-0 lead with 6:25 left in regulation on Virginia McNeill’s rebound goal.
Fifteen seconds later, Hough midfielder Courtney Carroll dribbled past several defenders and was fouled in the goal box, which gave the Huskies a penalty kick. Hough’s Anna Roach drilled in a low show to goalkeeper Elizabeth Raby’s left to tie the game at 1.
“Courtney’s play motivated us to do much better,” Denny said. “That really helped us and moved us forward. We all worked so hard to get where we are. It’s been a great journey, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Carroll, Hough’s leading scorer and a Mississippi signee, turned momentum with her determined run toward the net.
“To come back immediately (after Myers Park scored) and create a scoring chance was huge,” Hough coach David Smith said. “It did wonders for our confidence. This group of girls just doesn’t want to quit. The leadership we have on this team is tremendous. It was pretty clear they didn’t want the season to end yet.”
Hough had won its previous four playoff matches by shutout. Defenders Nicole Ferren, Blair Timberlake, Emma Cangalosi and Olivia DeMarcus played their usual solid game. Goalkeeper Marnie Merritt (she’s also headed to Mississippi) made 11 saves. When Denny banged in the winner, Merritt sprinted to join the happy pile in front of Myers Park’s net.
Hough’s players were celebrating as distraught Myers Park players lay motionless. Most were crying. Smith said deep runs into the playoffs never get old.
“Each game is its own battle and this was one of those,” he said. “We have so much respect for those (Myers Park) girls. We feel for them in a game that ends like that. It’s much happier to be on this end of it.