The Darton men's soccer team was all smiles for a second year in a row after defending their Region XVII Championship with a 4-3 double overtime win against Georgia Perimeter, advancing them to the District round Saturday in South Carolina. (Darton College/Special to The Herald)
DUNWOODY -- Darton freshman Troy Tucker had scored only two goals all season coming into Sunday's Region XVII Championship game.
But No. 3 sure was a big one.
Tucker headed in a corner kick with a little more than five minutes left in the second overtime Sunday against Georgia Perimeter, giving the No. 2 nationally-ranked Cavalier men's soccer team a 4-3 victory, their second straight conference crown and send them back to the NJCAA Division I District Tournament -- which is just one step away from nationals.
"It was probably one of the most thrilling games I've ever been a part of," Darton coach Bart Sasnett said. "When it was over, we were ecstatic. It was an emotional roller coaster, for sure."
The victory not only wraps up a perfect record for the Cavs (17-1 overall, 14-0 in Region XVII), but puts Darton one step closer to getting back to the national tournament, where they finished sixth last season.
But this year's team is deeper, stronger and has higher expectations than ever before.
"We were definitely nervous in a game that tight (about the fact that we might not win after such a good season)," said Sasnett, whose Cavs crushed GPC during their two regular-season meetings (4-2 and 4-0). "But we got it done and now we're moving on."
And they're moving on with a target on their backs.
The Cavs, who reached No. 1 in the nation earlier this season for the first time in the program's history before later being bumped by unbeaten Schoolcraft College out of Michigan (22-0), will now head to Spartanburg, S.C., to face No. 16 nationally ranked Spartanburg Methodist College (15-3) on Saturday for the District Championship. The winner will have its ticket punched to the NJCAA National Championships on Nov. 17-20 in Phoenix.
Darton, despite being ranked higher than Spartanburg, still has to travel because the South Carolina junior college was chosen before the season as the host site for Districts, just like Albany was a year ago.
"We have to travel, yes, but I think we'll be fine," Sasnett said.
Things sure didn't start out fine for the Cavs on Sunday as GPC came out and smacked them around, scoring two quick goals to put Darton in a unlikely -- and extremely uncharacteristic -- 2-0 hole.
"That was the first time all year we trailed at halftime, as well as the first time we fell behind in any game by more than a goal," Sasnett said. "But we scored once right before the half and that really got us fired up. I just told the guys at halftime to stay calm, not to panic and to come out and settle in."
Sophomore leader Guilherme Frota's blast before halftime kept Darton within striking distance, then the Cavs quickly took the lead early in the second half on back-to-back lightning-quick scores -- one by Andrew Palumbo and one by Jaylon Bather, both of whom are freshman.
Palumbo and Bather both found themselves in heightened roles Sunday after Region XVII Player of the Year Diego Ramos -- Darton's leading scorer -- and fellow sophomore star Carlos Trombino Filho both left the game in the first half with injuries.
Of course, all that did was pave the way for the heroics by Tucker, a native of Bermuda.
"The freshmen had to step up, and they did," Sasnett said. "Troy's goal was just the capper. It was a huge shot and an amazing win."
And just like that, Darton's equally amazing season continues.