Note: This story was last updated at 12:35 a.m.
Oak Ridge eliminated Maryville 2-1 in a Region 2-AAA semifinal game at home on Tuesday, and the Wildcats advance to play at Bearden in the region championship on Thursday.
Oak Ridge scored the winning goal on a header by senior defender Blake Clowers off a corner kick by junior forward Austin Vinyard with 8:21 remaining in the playoff elimination game.
The Wildcats are guaranteed two more games: the Region 2-AAA championship and a state sectional. In the sectionals, the Region 1 champion plays the Region 2 runner-up, and the Region 2 champion plays the Region 1 runner-up.
The Region 2 championship game will start at 4 p.m. Thursday at Bearden High School in Knoxville. The sectionals are Saturday.
The Region 1 championship between Sevier County and Dobyns-Bennett starts at 6 p.m. Thursday in Sevierville.
Oak Ridge (14-7) and Maryville (13-6-2) were closely matched in terms of overall records. But Maryville beat Oak Ridge 4-1 during the regular season two weeks ago. Some people probably favored the Rebels in Tuesday night’s playoff game, Oak Ridge Coach Jeff Trombly said.
But the Wildcats played well defensively, and he was happy with the outcome.
“Blake’s goal was unbelievable,” Trombly said.
Clowers, who has battled injuries this season, called the game-winner a “pretty big goal” for him.
“Austin (Vinyard) just lofted it in there perfectly right over the keeper’s hands,” Clowers said. And he (Clowers) got away from a Maryville defender to head the ball into the left side of the net, with Maryville junior goalkeeper Ben Smith standing toward the right upright.
“Coach always tells us to play it inside the near post,” Vinyard said. “That’s where the top players are.”
The Rebels played without their leading scorer, junior Jason Phillips, who was serving a two-game suspension. Phillips had one goal against Oak Ridge in the regular-season game two weeks ago.
But Maryville Coach Steve Feather didn’t want his players to focus on the absence of Phillips or make excuses. It’s a team effort, Feather said.
“We still did enough to win, and so did they,” Feather said.
Maryville had its chances and outshot Oak Ridge 13-8. The Rebels had seven corner kicks, compared to five for the Wildcats.
Oak Ridge knew Maryville didn’t have Phillips, but the Wildcats still had to be “super prepared,” Clowers said. And with Maryville continuing to attack even after the game-winning goal on Tuesday, they had to keep their composure.
Maryville scored first when senior Will Barham rifled in a shot up the middle in the third minute.
Oak Ridge senior forward Jose Rodriguez answered about 13 minutes later, kicking the ball in from about 20 yards out past Maryville defenders and to the right of Smith.
The score then remained tied 1-1 until the 72nd minute, when Clowers scored on the game-winning header.
The Wildcats lost to Bearden (18-3) 4-1 on March 29, during the regular season, but players and Trombly have said Oak Ridge is a different team now. Still, they knew the remaining Region 2 games, whether they played Maryville or Bearden, were going to be tough.
Right now, Trombly said, he wants his team to get some rest.
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