Oneida’s Lady Indians are pictured with their Region 2-A tournament championship plaque following their 4-2 win over Cumberland Gap at Jane Terry Hoffman Field on Thursday, October 24, 2019 | Sarah Dunlap/IH

There’s no denying that Cumberland Gap has become Oneida’s biggest rival on the soccer pitch.

That likely made Thursday’s win over the Panthers all the more sweeter for the Lady Indians, who won their third game of the season against their District 3-A nemesis to claim the Region 2-A championship for the second time in three years.

Macy Dunlap had a hat trick with three goals, while Aliyah Douglas also added a goal, as the Lady Indians defeated Cumberland Gap 4-2 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

The old adage is that it’s difficult to beat an evenly-matched team three times in one season, and the Lady Indians and Panthers were just that. Each of the teams’ first two meetings was decided by one goal.

But, surprisingly perhaps, Oneida jumped out to a 3-0 lead in Thursday’s championship game, after leading 2-0 at halftime. Cumberland Gap scored two late goals in a four-minute span to cut it to 3-2 with a minute remaining, before the Lady Indians tacked on a late goal for security.

Oneida coach Phil Newport took the blame for allowing Cumberland Gap to make it close late.

“I kinda let the girls take their foot off the gas and we relaxed a little bit,” he said, adding that he was trying to get some of his offensive players off the field. “In doing so, I unintentionally relaxed my defense in front of a goalie that was again playing brilliantly. We got on our heels there and we should have kept our foot on the gas.”

Alea Jones had 20 saves in the game. Cumberland Gap had 23 shots. Oneida had 28.

Douglas assisted two of Dunlap’s goals, while the other was unassisted. Dunlap returned the favor, assisting Douglas’s goal.

Newport pointed out the defense of Kamryn Kennedy and Kelsey Pike, who he said were assigned to Cumberland Gap’s two best players and did a “fabulous job,” freeing Emalea Sexton to play the sweeper position.

On the offensive end, “Dunlap was great finishing and (Caroline) Keeton and Douglas kept getting her great balls,” he added.

Macy Dunlap scores on a header during the first half of Oneida’s Region 2-A championship win over Cumberland Gap at Jane Terry Hoffman Field on Thursday, October 24, 2019 | Sarah Dunlap/IH

In the middle, Newport credited the play of Teesha Norris, Alexea Jones and Laurel Blount. “Blount just works so well wherever I throw her…she’s such an unsung part of our lineup who just keeps getting involved with the rest,” Newport said. “So does Macy Griffith.”

Three consecutive wins over Cumberland Gap — and four straight overall, dating back to last season’s district championship game — is even more impressive considering the Panthers defeated Oneida handedly in the preseason.

“I am pleased with this group’s effort in the postseason,” Newport said. “They have yet to wilt under the pressure. Remember that Cumberland Gap handed us our hat in the preseason and we have been up to the task now in three straight games. They average eight goals per game, so our defense has been stellar.”

The win means that Oneida will host a Class A state sectional game on Saturday, with a berth in the state tournament on the line. The Lady Indians have never been to the state tournament.

Cosby was expected to be headed to the winner of the Oneida-Cumberland Gap game, and the Eagles were defeated by the Panthers in August, 4-1. But they pulled off a stunning upset at Alcoa on Thursday, defeating the Tornadoes 3-2 after losing to them by a 5-0 count in the District 2-A championship game a week earlier.

So, Oneida will host Alcoa on Saturday. The Tornadoes advanced to the Class A state semifinals last season, and defeated Oneida 7-1 in the sectionals. This season, though, the two teams appear to be a bit more evenly matched.

“All I know is if Cosby can do it, then I feel we can,” Newport said of his team’s chances against Alcoa. “I expect them to be similar to Polk County. I just know it will be a tall order.

“Having said that, you can’t avoid any opponent so why not play them now rather than later. I thin my kids have been playing very well lately.”

Kickoff time for Saturday’s game has not been set. Inclement weather is in the forecast; however, Newport said he did not anticipate the game being changed. Teams are on a TSSAA-imposed deadline to finish games due to the start of the state tournament next week.