There wasn’t any panic in the Zionsville Eagles.
They had worked too hard and too long to falter in the state title game.
So even down a goal midway through the second half, and seemingly not having any breaks go their way, they didn’t stop believing they would get the job done.
And in a blink of an eye, the Eagles turned it around. Chris Freeman and Alex Carr scored 34 seconds apart, and Ben Weidner got an insurance goal in the final minutes as Zionsville captured the boys soccer state title 3-1 over Lake Central.
“This is such a great feeling,” Zionsville head coach Rob Jordan said. “Our kids played hard, and it’s good to see them be rewarded for such a great season. I told the boys, I have been chasing this thing for 34 years and to finally get it is total elation. The look in their eyes, seeing that happiness, is the best thing I have ever seen.”
Last year, the Eagles were so close to winning the state title, only to see Chesterton score in the final minute of overtime to win 1-0.
This year, the goal was to not only get back to the State Finals, but to finish the job. Mission accomplished.
“This season was all about working together and unfinished business,” Freeman said. “We have had that goal to get back to this game and win it. It feels so nice to win it, share this moment with all our friends and families and our teammates.”
Carr said that the Eagles had used the loss last year as motivation all season, and especially this week heading into the championship game.
“That was the biggest aspect to be honest,” junior Alex Carr said. “Last year, it was good just to get there. This year, we knew it was our time, and we wanted to finish it off.”
The Eagles dominated the first half Saturday night, out-shooting the Indians 10-2.
But they hit the crossbar once, and had two goals wiped out by the offside flag, and found themselves tied 0-0 at the half.
Zionsville continued to dominate possession in the second half, then got a sucker punch with 26:15 to go.
Lake Central won a free kick in the Eagles’ half, and Zionsville couldn’t fully clear the cross. The ball found itself at the feet of Jakob Noldin, who shot it through a crowd into the back of the net.
“It was a goal we probably shouldn’t have allowed, but we have come back before,” Jordan said. “That says a lot about our team and their competitive fire. The kids stepped up and made some big plays.”
Weidner said that no one on the Eagles’ hung their heads when they fell behind.
“We knew what it felt like to be down, last weekend we were down 1-0 too,” Weidner said. “We knew if we kept our heads up and played our game, we wouldn’t be beat. We kept having fun, and when we do that, we play our game and get goals.”
The lead didn’t last long.
With 18:44 to play, Freeman collected the ball 45 yards from goal, dribbled around four Lake Central defenders, and scored from 20 yards out to tie the game.
“He has done that all the way through the tournament,” Jordan said. “He has been incredible. Every time in this tournament that we have needed a goal, Chris has gotten it. It was an incredible individual run to score that goal. He got big goals against Carmel, North Central, Columbus East and then today, he was exceptional tonight.”
Freeman scored in five of the six post-season games this fall and many of them at huge times.
He had the game-winning goal against Carmel in the sectional semifinal, and game-tying strikes against North Central and Columbus East when they Eagles’ trailed 1-0.
The goal Saturday was his 13th of the season.
“We have all played together for so long, and we know he is our energizer even in our friend group,” Weidner said. “When we get him the ball, we know he can do some special with it and that is contagious to everyone else on the field.”
Just 34 seconds later, the Eagles led.
Weidner sent in a cross, and a bad clearance went straight to Carr, who one-timed a shot into the top of the net.
“He just finds a way to poach and get those goals when we need them the most,” Freeman said. “He stepped all post-season and he will have a great season next year for sure.”
It was Carr’s fourth goal of the post-season.
Carr said he knew that he just had to put himself in dangerous positions.
“I knew this was a huge game, and the little things like that would make the difference,” Carr said. “To be in the right spot at the right time, it was just huge.”
Jordan said that he felt like the way the goal came, just 30 seconds after the Eagles had tied the game, was a major blow to Lake Central.
“Alex has scored a ton of goals for us in the tournament,” Jordan said. “In the regular season, he was just missing on a lot of goals, but he has really stepped up in the tournament. That goal just tore the hearts out from them, it was a fantastic goal.”
Zionsville only allowed Lake Central one shot in the final 15 minutes as they saw out the game.
They sealed the win with 2:40 left, when Weidner scored on a Josh Kuller assist to put the Eagles up 3-1.
“I knew that one goal for them they were right back in it,” Weidner said. “I had hit the post a few times, but I knew if I kept pushing forward good things would happen. Josh (Kuller) is so special and he got me the ball, I got a good look and capitalized.”
From there, it was just enjoying the final two minutes of the season, knowing they would be crowned state champions.
The Eagles will go down as one of the best teams in Indiana history, being just the fourth team in Indiana history to finish a season unbeaten an untied.
They trailed in just three games all year long, and were rarely tied outside of 0-0.
“Unbeaten and untied is really, really hard to do,” Jordan said. “Every game this year, we took every team’s best shot. And to come out and win every single one, I am so impressed with that, maybe even moreso than the state championship. These guys have a lot of heart, and they displayed it this evening.”