The Eagles were up a man and a goal when they headed into halftime of the 44th District Tournament title game on Thursday in Richmond.
At that point, they appeared to be in position to accomplish something very special.
It wouldn’t be that easy, though.
“You don’t get to 13-0 without being really good,” Madison Southern coach Andrew Lunsford said of Madison Central. “We tried to set up to counter what they were doing, but I’ve got to give them credit. They had the better chances in the second half.”
The Indians (13-1) battled back in a very intense game that featured six cards and plenty of physical play.
Southern was able to hold on for a 1-0 win over previously undefeated Central. The win gave Southern (11-2-1) back-to-back-to-back district championships for the first time in program history.
Both teams advance to next week’s 11th Region Tournament.
Southern will face Frederick Douglass at 2 p.m. Sunday in Berea, while Central will travel to Great Crossing for a 3 p.m. game on Sunday.
“Winning it for the third-straight time, for the first time, It’s just incredible,” Southern senior Pierce Meeks said.
The Eagles took control early and dominated for most of the first half.
They didn’t get on the scoreboard, however, until just before the break.
Central’s Butrint Halili had been assessed a yellow card earlier in the half and then was called for a foul after bringing down a Southern player in the box with 8:46 left in the first half. The junior defender protested the decision to the referee and was assessed a red card.
Meeks stepped up and took the penalty kick. He beat sophomore keeper Thomas Fairchild to score the only goal of the game.
Lunsford usually lets his team decide who will take PKs, and Meeks never fails to eagerly embrace the challenge.
“I step up for every single one of them” Meeks said. “I try to set an example for the younger guys to have confidence in high-pressure situations.”
That series of events gave Southern the lead and left Central with only 10 players on the field.
The Indians didn’t give up.
Despite being short-handed, Central forced Southern keeper Austin Shepherd to make a series of difficult stops in the second half.
“Austin made some amazing saves,” Lunsford said of Shepherd.
Central’s best chance came with just less than 10 minutes left.
Gavin O’Shea — who has a team-best 23 goals on the season — raced up the right side and got off a shot that Shepherd stopped, but the ball bounded away. O’Shea got his foot on it again, but the keeper made another save.
“It was a good thing I got there before he did,” Shepherd said.
Central’s Christopher LaGrange also had a great chance in front that Shepherd was able to stop inside in the final minute.
“It got a little chippy at the end,” Shepherd said. “It was a good thing we stuck through and got the win.”
Central won the only regular-season meeting with Southern. The Indians picked up a 1-0 overtime win in Berea on Sept. 19.
“We went into that game scared of losing,” Lunsford said of the first match-up with Central. “In this game, there was no fear. It was just an attitude of lets get back out there and take back what we think is ours.”
For the third-straight year, the district title is Southern’s.
And that the great accomplishment for the team’s nine upperclassmen.
“This senior group is special,” Lunsford said. “We picked up a couple along the way, but we have had that core group that has been together since elementary school. They came in with a goal to set a new bar for the program — and they certainly have.”