Gatlinburg-Pittman breaks decade-long losing streak to Pigeon Forge

Apr. 18, 2014 @ 03:14 PM

 When the whistle blew at Hammonds Stadium, Will King’s fourth-minute goal was the only tally on the scoreboard.

It was time for the party to begin for the Gatlinburg-Pittman boys soccer team.

“It feels good,” said Highlanders senior Luke Stone. “I’ve never beat Pigeon Forge before so today felt like a good day. This is the first time I’d beaten Pigeon Forge ever, in any game.”

The 1-0 victory over the Tigers ended a near decade of frustration for G-P against its biggest rival. In a poetic twist, the men who engineered the victory, Highlanders coaches Zach Schrandt and Van Harper, both played for Pigeon Forge in high school under current coach Bill Moseley.

“If I was to lose, who else better to lose to than ex-players?” Moseley said. “Maybe I did something right because they’ve become really good coaches.”

Schrandt’s club kept the lid on his alma mater right out of the gate. G-P applied pressure, circulating the ball in the Tigers’ end of the field for most of the game. The shot total was 9-1 by halftime and the Highlanders would finish with 19 shots.

But only one of those shots found the back of the net and it came early. Senior Will King hustled down the wing less than four minutes in, forcing a corner kick with speed that bothered Pigeon Forge for most of the morning. He took the ensuing corner from Chris Kilbourne on a hop and smashed it in off the post.

“I was like, ‘please go in,’ ” King said. “Sometimes you never know after it hits that post, bounce out, bounce in. I got a lucky bounce on that one. It was looking good for us there.”

Stone had a shot to make it 2-0 a couple minutes later but Pigeon Forge keeper Tyler Watts got a paw on the header before it went in. That was the beginning of a frustrating offensive day for the Highlanders. G-P made run after run after run at the Tigers’ goal, but couldn’t pop another one past Watts. 

That string of chances included a breakaway by Harrison Genseal that Watts broke up followed by a hockey-style, 3-on-2 rush late in the half that nothing came of. King played a ball into the box for Genseal in the second half but the senior slipped and never could redirect it toward goal. After Schrandt yelled, “Finish them off right now,” with about six minutes left, King headed a ball over the bar.

“Last year in the first 25 minutes we dominated the run of play, couldn’t score and we got negative energy,” Schrandt said. “I told the guys that nothing would come easy. Just keep after them, keep attacking, keep pressing high up the pitch and eventually we’d get them to kind of wear down and break down.”

All that sustained pressure didn’t lead to goals and it was still 1-0 deep into the second half when the Tigers got their best shot. Melvin Gaitaho rocketed a free kick just outside the box off the crossbar. Matthew Kieta couldn’t convert a rebound header and G-P could breathe a sigh of relief. A second free kick from nearly the same spot was easily picked up by Highlanders keeper Adam Ogle.

“We fought all the way through and didn’t give up,” said Pigeon Forge’s Mckenly Matthews. “I was proud to say that.”

The Tigers made it difficult but G-P found a way, somehow, to hold on.

“We outplayed them the whole game and if we’d let that get away, it’d be heartbreaking,” King said. “We had five or six chances inside the 18, just had to beat the keeper and weren’t able to do that. But we played pretty good. We definitely out-possessed them and that’s what we focus on doing.”