Highlanders find a way to counter Sevier County in milestone win
Soccer can be a funny game.
It’s not always the brute force of possession or offensive prowess that wins the day. Sometimes it’s about knowing how to win the chess match with a deft counter.
“Playing the bigger teams we’re going to have a play a style we don’t like as much or aren’t as familiar with, but it’s working for us,” said Highlanders coach Zach Schrandt. “Laying back, defending.”
It worked on Friday. Sevier County possessed the ball and got flurries of scoring opportunities but it was the Highlanders that counter-punched their way to a 3-1 victory on the second day of the Rocky Top Cup. It was G-P’s first win over its county rival in at least a decade.
“It’s crazy, man,” said senior Harrison Genseal. “… It’s pretty epic for what this program was four years ago.”
Genseal picked up the equalizer 15 minutes into the game after Anthony Lemus gave the Smoky Bears a lead on a free kick 12 minutes earlier. G-P recognized the danger Lemus presented, doubling and stifling him the rest of the night.
The Highlanders weren’t afraid to counter when the opportunity presented itself and that gave the Bears fits. There were nervous moments for Sevier County coach Bryan Atchley between lengthy stretches of possession when a long ball over the top allowed G-P’s forwards to run in on the defense. A failed clear by the Bears led to the winning goal from Will King before a Genseal throw-in created an own goal to make it 3-1.
“They did a good job of keeping that line back and frustrating us,” Atchley said. “We did a bad job of pushing our line up too much and boom, they would counter. They outworked us. That’s something I don’t like.”
It’s a strategy that’s not unfamiliar to Atchley. Early in the coach’s career, he used the same concept to get success against District 4-AAA powerhouses like Maryville. Schrandt adopted the counter against larger schools that may outgun his team. It worked when G-P blitzed Seymour in a scrimmage last week, forcing the Eagles to pack it in defensively in a 2-1 victory over the Highlanders on Thursday.
It’s all about taking advantage of speed up top, where guys like Genseal and King can burn turf. Schrandt said he works in practice a lot on quickly getting the ball out when G-P is pinned deep, like a long outlet pass in basketball. Atchley said his defense creeped a little too far up and had to scramble to get back.
“We identified early that they were flat in the back,” King said. “If we swung it from one side to the other, it was there all day.”
The other half of the equation was stopping Lemus, who had six goals in Sevier County’s first two games. If the Bears can break through the defense and goalkeeper Adam Ogle, the counters wouldn’t matter.
And Lemus tried, rocking a missile just wide off a long throw from Connor Rytz midway through the second half. Sevier County got a corner kick a minute later, but again came up empty. G-P made it 3-1 shortly thereafter.
“They had me pretty well covered,” Lemus said. “Once they see me move to one place, they’re right on my back. They didn’t leave me any space. They were with me the whole time.”