This one means everything: Lafayette through to state championship game for first time in school history

Published 10:03 am Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Carson Taylor stepped calmly to the spot.

His teammates had already done their job, sinking their first four attempts in the penalty shootout. Now, Taylor stood over the ball with a chance to send Lafayette to the state championship game.

The junior stared down the keeper in goal, took a short run-up and confidently buried the ball in the back of the net, clinching the first North Half championship in school history as the Commodores knocked off rival Saltillo 5-3 in penalties.

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“I told the kids before the game: I’m gonna cry if we win, I’m gonna cry if we lose so you better make it worth it,” said head coach Gene Anderson.

The ‘Dores did just that — battling with the Tigers through 110 minutes of scoreless action as both teams threw haymakers all night but were unable to land the knockout punch.

Saltillo controlled the action through the majority of the first half behind a strong performance from senior Andy Buchanan.

The Tigers flowed all of their offense through the physical striker, who pushed the ball upfield effectively and sprayed passes  throughout the attacking third.

They nearly broke through in the fourth minute when Buchanan launched a free kick from about 30 yards out that looked as if it was going to tuck into the top corner of the net before keeper Andrew Jordan made a phenomenal leaping save to punch it over the bar for a corner.

The impressive play was just the first of many saves on the night for Jordan, who played perhaps the best game of his career when it mattered most.

“He was solid the whole game,” Anderson said of Jordan. “There were a couple that I was like ‘oh my God it’s going in’ and he just got there. He was huge all night long, there were probably two in each of the halves… that were big-time saves.”

Jordan’s incredible performance in goal kept the ‘Dores in the match and allowed them to push the ball forward with a bit more confidence in the second half.

They nearly broke through with their own go-ahead goal midway through the second half when junior Nate Dees launched a corner into the box that was chested to the back post by freshman Gavyn Leary, but a Saltillo defender made a phenomenal play on the ball to head it out at the last moment.

As time ticked away in regulation it became clear that nothing could separate the two rivals, who had split the season series 1-1 entering Monday’s contest.

Neither team was able to find separation in the overtime periods either and the two teams headed to a penalty shootout with a trip to the state title game on the line.

Lafayette, who had not reached a penalty shootout all season, looked remarkably confident at the spot as sophomore Porter Lindsay, senior Crosse Lindsay, Leary and Dees each calmly buried their shots from the spot while Saltillo missed two of their first four attempts.

“We practice this all the time and we haven’t had to use it this year, but in the past that was kind of our go-to a lot of times,” Anderson said. “At least twice a week I have 10 guys [practice penalties] and they go to the same spot every single time. You watched them when they walked up there —they just put it in and the last couple guys had a little swagger because they knew we were ahead by one and they were just burying it.”

Taylor’s final penalty kick will be etched in school history for years to come, but the ‘Dores are not satisfied with simply reaching the title game.

Lafayette will travel to Brandon on Saturday with the intent of bringing home some hardware for the first time in Anderson’s 16-year career with the Commodores.