POSTED BY: RICHIE HALL OCTOBER 13, 2019
By RICH TORRES
NOBLESVILLE – The Noblesville Millers were down, but they were never out.
As their early 1-0 lead against rival Hamilton Southeastern quickly turned into a 2-1 deficit during the Class 3A Sectional 8 championship on Saturday night, the eighth-ranked Millers didn’t panic.
They dug in deeper.
“We just can’t drop our heads in that situation because as soon as you drop your head, they get another one and another one. With that one goal lead, it just wasn’t enough,” Millers’ junior Drew Barnes said. “We came back. We knew we were going to do it, and we did it.”
The Millers didn’t only storm back to tie the game 2-2 in the first half behind a header goal by Palmer Ault, they kept pouring it on to win 4-3 and dethrone No. 15 Hamilton Southeastern, which had won four straight sectional titles and five in the past seven years.
“I wouldn’t say we played a perfect game considering we were down 2-1 at one point with a couple of mistakes, but you know what, they persevered through. They were down, but they weren’t down,” Noblesville head coach Ken Dollaske said. “You could see that even when we were down 2-1, the bench had high energy the entire time.”
Motivated by what ifs and what could have been in recent postseasons, the Millers (14-2-2) clawed back to capture the program’s 13th sectional title under IHSAA affiliation and 19th overall in school history.
The key to claiming the team’s first title since 2013 and a clean sweep of the Royals (10-5-2), who they defeated at home 2-1 during the regular season on Oct. 1, was belief and persistence.
“Their approach was cool, calm, collected the entire time,” Dollaske said. “We probably had the best training session we had all season yesterday, so you could just kind of feel it. Everybody was locked in, and they were ready to go. They were going to be even keel but still bring as much energy as they possibly could.”
Jack Miller hammered home the game’s first goal in the third minute off a free kick to give Noblesville a 1-0 lead before HSE scored a pair of goals off deflected saves by goalkeeper Adam Carter as Isa Sayeed and later Neel Wetzel attacked the net.
Then, the 25th minute struck and so did Ault.
“That’s when we knew because we went down and they had all the momentum. He got that goal and it brought all the momentum back to us,” Barnes said. “That’s all we needed.”
Barnes fired in the go-ahead goal in the 38th minute off a ricocheted save that slipped past HSE goalkeeper Jacob Kane.
“We were down early, and it was a great feeling to get the go-ahead goal in,” Barnes said. “I couldn’t have done it without the cross, and the keeper fumbled it, and I was just there to put it away. They won the last four, and we wanted to break that streak. We knew with these guys we could do it.”
A goal with 40.9 seconds left in the first half by Kyle Goad off a header assist by Barnes provided the cushion the Millers desperately needed.
“We knew it was going to be a high-scoring game going into it. I let off a few I shouldn’t have, but my teammates held my back, and we kept playing through it,” Carter said.
The defense held its ground in the second half as HSE increased the pressure at midfield, disrupting the Millers’ attempt to add another insurance goal. The Royals nearly tied the game in the 65th minute but a Brendan Hench goal was waved off due to an offside call.
An interference call against Tyler Pulliam as he collided with Carter in goal erased another would-be goal in the 49th minute
Kam Greenwald cut the Royals’ deficit 4-3 in the 71st minute, but several crucial saves by Carter in the final 8:53 and two more in the final 1:30 preserved seventh straight win and the championship trophy celebration.
“We felt it turn. Even when they got their third goal, you could tell we were still locked in,” Dollaske said. “It was fantastic. It should have been 2-0 when Harrison Christman hit the post (in the first half), but yeah, we feel behind and our defense kind of bailed us out a couple of times. Our goalkeeper bailed us out a couple of times, so it was a collective team effort.”
It took everything the Millers had to stop the Royals, who had been a thorn in Noblesville’s side since 2015, eliminating Noblesville every year during their title runs.
“It feels good because honestly, we felt like this the past two years when they knocked us out. Two years ago, they beat us with eight seconds to go. Last year, they beat us in PKs, so it definitely feels great to reverse the tables,” Dollaske said.
Up next, the Millers travel to Kokomo for regional the coming Saturday where they will face unranked Harrison (11-6-1) in the semifinals at 10 a.m.
“It’s a dream come true. We have some of the best, youngest talent out there with (sophomores) Palmer, Spencer (Holland), (junior) Drew Barnes. It just adds to our senior crew as well,” Carter said. “It’s been great, young and old, and feeding off each other.”