CUMBERLAND GAP — The Panthers entered Thursday’s important district match with Oneida undefeated on the season, averaging over six goals per game.
They exited the game with both of those achievements intact, after a 6-2 win over the Lady Indians that allowed them to wrap up the No. 1 seed in District 3-A heading into the postseason.
Cumberland Gap scored less than 90 seconds in, then scored three goals in quick succession midway through the first half to leave Oneida shell-shocked, down 4-0. It was a game that felt eerily similar to last year’s regular season matchup, except in reverse. In that one, the Lady Indians jumped out to a surprising 3-0 lead on their home turf before the Panthers were able to recover.
“It had been such a big spell between games and we got off the bus half asleep,” Oneida coach Phil Newport said. “I am quite bothered by the breakdowns we had defensively, but the skill they possess up top was very good. I thought they passed the ball with great touch and put their scorers in excellent position to score.”
Freshman Rory Blevins finally got Oneida on the board late in the first half, off an assist by fellow freshman Ali Smith. Then, five minutes into the second half, junior Caroline Keeton scored on a perfectly-placed ball from the right side, and the game was suddenly competitive, at 4-2.
But Cumberland Gap answered a minute later to seize back the momentum. A few minutes later, the Panthers scored on a direct kick to take a 6-2 lead that essentially ended any drama that remained. After that, it was as much about killing clock as anything for the home team, as they consistently played long balls to Oneida keeper Claire Burress.
Newport reiterated after the game that he was not pleased with his team’s effort.
“If I am mad at anything right now it is that my kids haven’t wholly bought in and we have produced a nasty habit of playing on our heels,” he said. “Those bumps and bruises are starting to take a toll and Cumberland Gap took advantage of those things. Right now, this Phil Newport team isn’t playing like a Phil Newport team. I am not saying that as an attention-getter but as a coach that takes pride in his kids playing competitively. We will get there; a few are heading in the right direction.”
Oneida had defeated Cumberland Gap three straight times, and in six of the two teams’ seven meetings since the formation of the current District 3-A prior to the start of the 2017 season.
With the win, the Lady Indians and the Panthers, will likely rematch if each reaches the district championship game — and both will be heavily favored to do so — on Cumberland Gap’s turf. It’s not dissimilar to the 2018 season, which also happened to feature Cumberland Gap’s only win over Oneida since the 2017 reclassification. That year, the Panthers defeated Oneida at home, 1-0, to claim home field advantage in the postseason. But the Lady Indians got their revenge when it mattered most, in the district championship game that was played at Cumberland Gap.
Newport also pointed out that his team lost to Cumberland Gap by a similar four-goal margin, 5-1, in a preseason jamboree game last year before bouncing back to defeat the Panthers three times, including in the district and region championship games.
“I took quite a few notes in the second half so maybe I can fix some stuff,” he said. “I am optimistic. Last year we left the jamboree with the 5-1 beatdown, and then managed to win each game after that. We didn’t show up tonight but anyone that thinks we are done will find out otherwise.”
As for Thursday’s game, Newport said, “I take complete responsibility for my kids’ performance. When (Oneida football coach) Tony Lambert has a team put up 30 on him he goes into the bunker because his defenses don’t do that. When I give up more than two I feel the same way.
“I will say this about Cumberland Gap’s early scores,” he added, “they made three picture-perfect passes. We ball-watched ourselves to death.”