The back of the net bounced. The stadium erupted. The celebration ensued.
With just over five minutes left to go, Indian River High School senior forward Madi McGee had knocked in a pass from senior forward Lexi Haden to tie the game against defending state-champion Cape Henlopen during the Indians’ first DIAA tournament appearance in exactly a decade.
Except that it didn’t count.
Understandably ecstatic after one of the game’s officials had indicated “goal,” the Indians were amidst hugs and high-fives when the game’s other official overruled — citing a whistle just seconds before McGee’s shot had a chance to stretch rope.
The Vikings heard the whistle. The Indians didn’t.
That left sophomore midfielder Jacqueline Cannon and the rest of the Cape offense virtually unopposed on the other side of the field to make it 2-0 before anyone had a chance to process what went down.
“That deflated us for a second — it just happened so quick,” said IR head coach Jodi Stone. “The girls didn’t hear the whistle.”
While the controversial call was questioned by fans after the game, the goal ultimately stood, advancing the Vikings to the next round of tournament in a 2-0 win and bringing the Indians’ season to a far from cathartic close.
Despite the loss, however, Stone was proud of her squad’s performance in the program’s first playoff appearance since 2006.
“We’re proud of them and they should be proud of themselves,” she said. “They have every right to have feelings. We’re all human, you’re going to have feelings but they’re having feelings in the right direction. They fought until the very end we’re all very proud of them.”
After falling to the Vikings 5-0 just last month, Stone said that the difference in Tuesday’s game compared to the regular season matchup was the defensive shift allowed by the return of junior defender Sammi Whelen — who had sat out the Oct. 18 matchup with an injury.
“We had Sammi back so we changed our formation defensively and we just worked on some key points,” Stone explained. “We knew some of the things that they were capable of doing so we kind of counterbalanced that in our practices.”
The formation proved effective throughout the game, with the defense led by Whelen, senior defender Maggie Ford, junior defender Kaleigh Cordrey, and sophomore defender Mackenzie Gorey successfully thwarting 10 Cape penalty corners and junior goalkeeper Mya Parks keeping the Vikings at bay with six saves.
The two goal gap marks the closest battle between the two programs since before Stone took over a struggling 2-13 squad in 2013.
“We just played the defending state champion for the past seven years and we hung with them until the very end,” Stone put the program’s progression into perspective.
“Now we have some tournament experience. This is a step in the right direction — it puts us into a different category. Hopefully it will draw some interest at the younger level as we continue to build our program.”
Next season, the Indians are set to return seven starters.
The no. 5 Vikings will face the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between no. 4 Tower Hill and no. 13 Sussex Tech in the next round of the DIAA tournament.