HUNTSVILLE — Fort needed two goals in two days to win a state championship, and freshman Evan McPherson delivered both of those goals.
McPherson scored the game-winning goal in double overtime Saturday against Northview to lift the Wildcats to a 1-0 victory and the Class 6A soccer state championship.
Friday he also scored the team’s only goal in their 1-0 victory against Pelham in the semifinals.
Before the season, McPherson wasn’t even on the varsity team. He was playing on the junior varsity team when Fort Payne coaches Tom Shanklin and Michael Farmer asked him to move up to varsity.
Now, he’s the hero of the state championship game and the MVP.
“I could never imagine this,” McPherson said. “I’m just a freshman and I never thought I would even get playing time and now we all see where that’s came to.”
Shanklin said he could never have imagined a freshman would come through for his team in that big of a way on that big of a stage. He also said if a freshman was going to do it, McPherson would probably be the one to do it.
“The only goals that Fort Payne scored in this tournament came off a freshman’s head and that’s insane,” Shanklin said. “But he has come through for us a lot. That takes a lot for any player, at any age, to always be at the right place at the right time and be able to finish goals like Evan does.”
The game was tooth-and-nail throughout with neither team being able to find the back of the net in regulation.
In the first half Fort Payne had some opportunities, but could never get anything past Northview.
For the first 20 minutes of the second half Northview controlled the game as far as possession goes. In the final 20 minutes Fort Payne turned up the pressure.
With 16:07 remaining in regulation Daniel Miranda sent a bullet toward the goal that looked poised to find the back of the net. However, Northview goalkeeper Coby Neenan blocked the shot just in time for the save.
The game then went into overtime in a five-minute golden-goal period — first team to score takes home the title.
Fort Payne controlled the first period, but still couldn’t get a goal.
It then went into a second overtime where Danny Gallegos sailed a beautiful pass that found McPherson’s head.
The rest is history.
“Their defense was pushing us to the side we were playing the most and I just saw the back door open and I just put the ball in,” McPherson said. “Danny Gallegos played a great ball to me. I can’t explain it ¬— it’s awesome.”
Miranda led the team with three shots on goal for the game and McPherson had just one.
Goalkeeper Luis Ramirez came through big for the Wildcats, also. He didn’t allow one goal to be scored on him for the whole tournament. Saturday he finished with four saves and had three saves on Friday.
Gallegos said he and his teammates weren’t going to be satisfied with bringing home another runner up trophy.
“I told the boys in the middle of the second half of the overtime that we couldn’t give up and we couldn’t lose like last year,” Gallegos said. “We wanted it bad and we didn’t give up.”
An emotional Shanklin said at the end of the game that the team had to dig deep to pull out the victory.
“How fortunate and blessed could we possible be?” Shanklin said. “It’s so emotional because that was a tough game. Ultimately, I think it came down to a mental game. Mentally we had to accept that this game was going to end whether we won or lost, and whoever wins it, is who is going to force and fight their way to the victory. That’s what they did.”
It’s the Wildcats second state title in five years and their third appearance in the state championship game in that same amount of time. Fort Payne wants to be known as a soccer powerhouse in the state. Their performance this weekend backs that up.
For seniors like Gallegos, it’s special to be able to leave their mark on the program with a state championship.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more than to win a state championship after being a Fort Payne Wildcat for four years,” Gallegos said. “Last year literally haunted me to this day. I didn’t want what happened last year to happen again. I wanted this team to feel the joy of being a state champion, and now we are.”