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Briar Woods nips Mills Godwin in penalty kicks to wear state crown

Briar Woods soccer players are all smiles following their victory in penalty kicks against Mills Godwin in the Virginia 5A state final.—Times-Mirror/Buzz Covington
With a hard-fought 1-0 victory June 10 that took penalty kicks to decide, the Briar Woods Falcons became the Virginia 5A state champions for boys' soccer. Not bad for a team that entered the postseason sporting a record of 7-6-5.

Briar Woods head coach Francois Bernard appeared to get a kick out of watching his players celebrate on the Westfield High School pitch.

"This is a great achievement for the program. We've won conference championships and region championships, but this was the one we hadn't won yet," Bernard said.

After concluding the regular season losing three of four, the Falcons (15-6-5) ran off eight straight wins in the postseason, the last six by a single goal. Along the way, Briar Woods collected titles for Conference 14, Region 5A North and - in a program-first - all of Group 5A.

The victory against Region 5A South champion Mills Godwin in the grand finale didn't come easily, or quickly. Missed opportunities during the run of play had the Falcon head coach nervous as the minutes waned.

"I felt like at times we had the better looks, but we weren't finishing," Bernard said.

Defense was the order of the day, exemplified by Briar Woods senior goalkeeper Micah Scott. In the middle stages of the first half, with both sides gaining confidence with their possession, Scott lunged to save a hard shot aimed at the right side of the net.

Senior defender Nate Albrecht broke up a Mills Godwin charge with a sliding tackle, and Albrecht teamed with fellow seniors Connor Shockley and Ryan Blazauskas to keep Scott's box clean.

Twice in the second half, junior midfielder Aidan Sullivan nearly put the ball in the net with a header off a corner kick. In extra time, Sullivan got loose for a run at the Mills Godwin keeper, but the Eagles' Adam Smith charged at Sullivan and deflected it away.

Two sets of 10-minute overtime ensued, with neither team capitalizing on chances. Sullivan and sophomore Jacob Warner put shots on frame, and the 100th minute of play ended with the Falcons holding off a Mills Godwin charge.

The winner of the state championship would be the winner of the penalty-kick phase, starting with five kicks each.

The Falcons and the Eagles tied that, too, with each nailing four. That's when Scott, one of the Falcons' vocal leaders, grabbed control of the outcome.

As tension mounted, the tall keeper exerted some excess energy, getting in a few chin-ups on the crossbar as he awaited the readiness of his opponent. With the season likely on the line, Scott made a headlong dive to prevent the kick from reaching the back of the net.

He immediately got up and strode confidently onto the field, ready to aim at the goal he'd just defended. Clad in his off-color keeper's gear, Scott lined up, stepped toward the ball and socked it. The Mills Godwin goalie dove to his left, deflecting it, but the ball's momentum trickled it barely across the goal and into the Briar Woods High School history books.

"Micah is very talented at saving PKs and even burying them," Bernard said. "We practice them every day. In the past we've lost games in PKs, so we've come up with some psychology for some of the players. Just to keep it simple and go for it, not to think too much."

Scott registered 10 saves in net to go with his game-winning boot. Upon accepting his individual trophy, the senior keeper shared an embrace with each teammate.

"This means everything to me," said Scott, a four-year Falcon who's opted not to play in college. "This is the team that's had the most heart and dedication. We couldn't have made it if we weren't so strong together as a team. These have been some of the greatest few months of my life."

-Photos by Buzz Covington and Chuck Moore


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