MURFREESBORO — Two things were clear in the mind of University School of Nashville forward Austin Criner Friday afternoon: penalty kicks were out of the question, and given an opportunity to score, he didn’t want to miss.
He accomplished both goals.
Criner took the ball away from a Webb School defender and pushed it just under a diving Zach Crownover in the 109th minute to give USN a 2-1 overtime victory and the Division II-A state soccer championship.
“As well as that keeper had been playing, we didn’t want the game to go to PKs,” said Criner, senior for the Tigers. “He looked just out of position, so I tried to put it where he wasn’t.”
The win gives USN (11-6-2) its first state soccer title to go along with a state runner-up finish in 2004, the last time the Tigers reached the finals.
“I think we were very comfortable and composed through the whole game,” USN coach Daniel Gordon said. “We stuck to the game plan. Even if we had gone to PKs, I still think we would have been OK.”
USN upset defending DII-A champ St. George’s 1-0 in the semifinals to face off against the Feet (17-4), who finished as state runners-up a year ago.
“We thought our team was pretty evenly matched with Webb,” Criner said. “Against St. George’s I felt like we were the underdogs, but after we got past that game we felt pretty good.”
Webb jumped out early thanks to a goal from Adam Brooks in the second minute and was able to control the tempo for much of the first half.
“They were creating more opportunities,” Criner said.
A foul on the Feet, though, in the 36th minute set up a Kareem Gordon free kick that Sam Gerstle was able to control and work around two defenders to shoot it past Crownover for a 1-1 tie.
The Tigers had another chance to end things in the 78th minute after a foul and yellow card was issued to Webb’s Sebastian Skordallos, giving USN a free kick from just beyond the 18-yard box.
Gordon’s kick hooked around the defensive wall for the Feet but was turned away by Crownover on a diving punch save to keep the score tied.
Twenty minutes worth of overtime and just under nine minutes of sudden death resulted in nothing, but Criner’s tenacity in front of the goal netted the Tigers a gold trophy, adding to the tradition established in 2004.
“None of these kids were around for that season, but I think they always stick to the tradition we established in the ’04 season,” Gordon said. “It’s really been a successful year for our program.”