Making their third consecutive state semifinal appearance, the Fort Payne boys had to go through the top-ranked Homewood Patriots to continue the pursuit of their first state championship since 2015.
The Patriots didn’t make anything easy for Fort Payne, unleashing a goal within the first minutes and preventing the Wildcats from settling into an offensive attack.
After falling into a 2-0 halftime hole, Fort Payne couldn’t overcome Homewood’s disruptive defense in a 3-0 loss in the semifinal round of the AHSAA Class 6A state playoffs at John Hunt Park in Huntsville on Friday afternoon.
“I’m very happy with the boys and the way they played today,” Wildcats coach Michael Farmer said after they finished the season with a 17-3-3 record. “Things just didn’t go our way today.”
The Patriots (18-3-3) advanced and defeated McGill-Toolen 2-1 in the 6A state championship match Saturday.
In Friday’s semifinal, Homewood’s Bryan Sokell scored 65 seconds into the match before the Patriots drew a penalty with 20:09 left in the opening half and Gage Estep sank the attempt.
“The biggest message before the game was to leave it all on the field, if we did that, we could hang their heads high when we came off the field and knew we gave it our best shot,” Farmer said.
Kai Stolp tried to get Fort Payne on the scoreboard with 15 minutes remaining in the half. He rebounded a ball inside the penalty area and took a shot from within 10 yards of the goal. The ball pinged off the right post and the Wildcats’ contingent sighed as the ball zipped back into Homewood’s possession.
Fort Payne changed its offensive formation at halftime in an attempt to produce more scoring chances. Despite getting some better offensive consistency with the formation switch, Homewood goalkeeper Luke Keown stymied the Wildcats and finished with three saves.
“We produced some chances but weren’t able to finish,” Farmer said. “Their keeper made a couple of really great saves. We knew coming in that he was a fantastic keeper and he proved that again today.”
With 26 minutes left in the second half, Cristian Barrientos gave the Wildcats another scoring opportunity, going one-on-two with a defender and Keown and shooting from 5 yards out. Keown stuck out a leg and deflected Barrientos’ strike out of the penalty area.
Three minutes later, Luis Gonzalez made a run at goal from the left side but couldn’t make the turn against his defender and shot into the side netting.
Fort Payne’s last high-percentage shot opportunity happened with 22 minutes left when Stolp flicked a header over the crossbar.
“Chances didn’t go our way today,” Farmer said. “(The Patriots) were up 2-0. We hit the post on a shot that would’ve made it 2-1. We got in on the keeper [later] and that would have made it 2-2. It’s a different ball game.”
Homewood’s Yousef Nasser scored at the 20:55 mark on an assist from Adonijah Kaplelach.
“At the beginning of the season we thought it might be a rebuilding year for us,” Farmer said, “but [the players] bought into what we were doing and put in the effort, battled through the season, won some good games.”