Cougars claim district title with hard fought victory

Published 8:40 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

BROOKHAVEN — Tension saturated the air around Brookhaven Academy Tuesday night. East Rankin was the only team to beat the Cougars going into the game and Brookhaven Academy had to beat them to claim a district title and did so to win 3-1. 

Even in warmups there was a deafening silence as the pressure built before bursting with kickoff. Players and coaches shouted directions as fans cheered and jeered with each buildup of play. 

Brookhaven Academy’s senior forward Yojan Hernandez threw the first punch of the match by scoring with 32 minutes left in the half. It was Hernandez’s 30th goal of the season. His go-ahead goal was short lived as East Rankin struck on a free kick to tie the game. 

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Senior forward Cooper Strickland scored to put BA ahead with 12 minutes left in the first half with a beautiful goal. He dribbled into space and got enough separation to fire in his shot. It was his 29th goal of the season. Freshman midfielder Trace Garrett said Strickland is the senior he looks up to most. 

“He is a good team leader and the best captain I’ve ever had,” Garrett said. 

The game balanced on a knife’s edge going into the second half. Garrett covered the right back position when East Rankin had the ball and moved forward into a right midfielder role when the Cougars had possession. The constant ebb and flow of the match kept him moving back and forth. 

Garrett typically plays a more forward role but the BA coaches used a tactical switch going into the match with East Rankin and it worked beautifully. Paired with senior Matt Newman, Garrett helped retain possession and keep East Rankin attackers at bay. 

His bulldog effort of stubborn determination and hustle paid off when he managed to save a miskick of his from going out of bounds. BA was able to keep on the attack and then Englishman Noah Fisher-Butler scored moments later. His goal extended the lead to 3-1 with 10:15 left in the second half. 

“I was jumping up and down. It was the best I felt in a while,” Garrett said. “It kind of took the pressure off. We were up two goals but I also knew it wasn’t over. East Rankin is very athletic and fast. It is hard to keep up with them.” 

He said the players took the loss last week as motivation and knew the match was big. Garrett and the Cougar players thanked the fans for supporting them. 

He has played soccer since second grade and it shows in his positioning and ability to read the game. 

Brookhaven Academy must be one of the more physically conditioned teams in the MAIS. Very few players came off the pitch and the energy and speed was maintained throughout the game. Garrett said his duties in the match took its toll but he takes conditioning very seriously. 

“I try to work the best way I can and I try to prove something,” Garrett said. “I had to sell out for my seniors and give my best.”