After beginning their AHSAA Class 6A first-round state playoff match with what coach Michael Farmer deemed a slow start, the Fort Payne boys soccer team found the necessary vigor and returned to form.
Alex McPherson scored a goal from 10 yards out and Cristian Barrientos scored a penalty kick as the Wildcats used a 2-0 first half advantage to defeat the Buckhorn Bucks at Wildcat Stadium on Thursday night.
“We came out flat as a team for the first 20-25 minutes,” Farmer said after the Wildcats improved to 15-2-3. “I think it was a little bit of overconfidence. If you look at (the Bucks’) record, it’s not all that great, but they’ve played a heck of a schedule.
“(The Bucks) are a good team, they know how to defend well. I think we went in a little overconfident, then finally we started showing some energy.”
Fort Payne awaits the winner of the Southside-Gadsden/Cullman matchup — a match played Friday night — to determine its second-round opponent.
A Southside win guaranteed Fort Payne a second-round hosting spot, whereas a Cullman win will force Fort Payne to travel for the next round. The second-round match will be played either Monday or Tuesday. Follow The Times-Journal on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
On Thursday, the Wildcats struck with 23:23 remaining in the opening half when McPherson got on the receiving end of a pass and used a quick touch to shoot past Buckhorn’s goalkeeper.
Joshua Guerra had a couple of quality scoring looks in the first 20 minutes. He booted a shot on-goal from about 20 yards out that was saved by the goalkeeper with 31 minutes, and later missed wide after chipping a quick touch over the goal from inside 10 yards with 22 minutes left to play.
Guillermo Andres Francisco broke free for a shot from the left side with 20 minutes remaining in the half. His low strike pinged off the right post.
With 7:50 on the clock, Barrientos drew a penalty while trying to maintain possession along the baseline. He sent his scoring opportunity into the back of the net, lifting Fort Payne to its winning margin.
“The last three or four games, I thought we’ve played outstanding, the best we’ve played all year,” Farmer said. “So I told the players before the game to just keep doing what you’ve been doing lately. But when you come out flat like we did, you have to find some energy and we finally did.”
Barrientos was injured on a play in the second half and left the match. The Wildcats’ bench came into play and proved its reliability.
“When Cristian went down in the second half, I was able to put Jesse (Espinoza) back there and nothing much changed,” Farmer said.
Buckhorn’s last scoring chance came inside the final minute when a ball was played deep into the penalty area and bounced around for a few seconds before being cleared.
“We’re pretty solid, defensively,” Farmer said. “We didn’t give up many chances for them to score. The rest of the [postseason] we have to be ready to come out and play the whole game.”