JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – An own goal off the boot of a Carson-Newman player proved to be the difference-maker in a quarterfinals match of the SAC tournament as the Queens Royals defeated the Eagles by a final of 2-1 at McCown Field Saturday night.
As the final horn sounded, players visibly distraught all over the pitch came together in hugs and support for one another. Head coach Simon Duffy addressed the group in a corner of the near side of the field juxtaposed to Burke-Tarr Stadium to deliver his final postgame speech.
"It's just a horrible feeling right now, just to be done," Duffy said. "I just told them to stay together, stay together as a team. It'll maybe take a day or two to sink in…just to be there for one another."
It was a tale of two halves for the No. 3 seeded Eagles (11-6-1). From the outset, the No. 6 seeded Royals (13-5-1) controlled the tempo and momentum of the offensive attack, putting nine shots up in the opening half of play to C-N's four. As the seconds ticked off in the final minute of the first half, it was freshman defense Keely Jackson that would fire the opening salvo on a pinball shot that ricocheted off a C-N defender, skipping past goalie Jasmine Rizk (Andersonville, Tenn.) and put the Royals up 1-0.
In the second half, C-N poured on shots and played like a team that was soon to be removed from postseason contention with the final result looming. C-N put together 20 shots in the final 45 to just one from Queens. Royals goalie Erica Turner recorded four saves in the second frame, with C-N attackers pepping shots that drew just wide or high of the framework.
Despite a continued push into the later stages of the second half, destiny would have written another way for C-N.
In the 68th minute, freshman forward Nia Gaither put a ball across the goalmouth from near the six-yard box, deflecting off of C-N defender Lira Mathes for an own goal. It is the first own goal error made by the Eagles this season.
Coming into the quarterfinal contest, C-N was 1-5-1 when conceding the first goal, and 0-2 when allowing the opening two goals.
A lone bright spot offensively was provided by freshman midfielder Addie Henry, who fired a laser into the back-right corner of the net from 30 yards out in the 75th minute. Cutting the deficit in half, C-N remained on the aggression in the final 10 minutes, firing seven shots in a last-ditch effort.
None would equal the ledger.
"Second half I couldn't have asked for anything more, I just wish that was there from the beginning," Duffy said. "We chatted to them at halftime and said, 'look, if we're going to go out, let's go out fighting, let's give it everything cause we haven't thus far,' and I couldn't have asked for anything more in the second half. They were absolutely tremendous.
"Still scratching my head on how we didn't get an equalizing goal, unfortunately."
It is the first time since the 2014 postseason that the Eagles have not reached the finals of the SAC tournament. It is also the first loss in program history at home to Queens, who are now 1-7-0 at Mossy Creek.
Griffin, a transfer from ETSU would find the back of the net twice for C-N this season, including a game-winner against Anderson on Sept. 28.
Blackburn and Spadafora both contributed over 400 minutes apiece for the Eagles, with Blackburn registering a game-winner against Newberry on Sept. 21 and Spadafora scoring on Senior Night against Wingate on Nov. 2.
Rizk made her senior season special. A backup for much of her career at C-N, Rizk assumed the role of the starter for the 2019 season and stepped up in a major way, recording an 80 percent save percentage on 176 shots faced, allowing only 18 goals. Her saves this season (72) rank sixth in program history for a single season.
Hallgrimsdottir leaves C-N as the career leader in penalty-kicks made with five, including three this year against Young Harris, Limestone and Tusculum.
At the end of the regular season, C-N played the sixth toughest schedule by winning percentage of opposition in Division II soccer. The grueling schedule in and out of conference made for a challenging season that saw a young team learn as a result.
"We have to work for everything," Duffy said. "Our conference is extremely, extremely difficult. We were very happy to have a home seed for the conference tournament. This year for us has been a year of growth, we return a lot of players, but I just want to thank our five seniors for putting forth the effort."
C-N will now head into the offseason, while Duffy will hit the recruiting trail for the 2020 season.