For the second time in three years, Oneida hoisted the District 3-A championship plaque as the sun set over Jane Terry Hoffman Field on Friday, as the Indians defeated Rockwood 5-0 in the district championship game.
The Indians, who defeated Cumberland Gap in the 2019 championship game and were poised for a repeat before Covid-19 interrupted the 2020 season, dominated Friday’s game, building a 4-0 halftime lead and owning both possession and shots-on-goal.
Oneida finished with 21 shot attempts in the first half alone, and had 10 more in the second half. Rockwood had just five shot attempts.
“I was very pleased with the way we moved the ball offensively,” Oneida head coach Derek Keeton said. “We had a lot of young guys making a lot of one-touch passes tonight. We didn’t always connect with a score but we were playing good fundamental, sound soccer offensively.”
Freshman Mason Keeton finished with a hat trick, scoring two goals in the first half and one in the second. Two of his goals were assisted by junior Gabe Hacker, who already owned the school record for single-season assists going into the game, with 30.
“Mason and Gabe have very good chemistry together, and Nick Gilbert’s skill set is a very good compliment to those guys at center-mid and at forward,” Keeton said. “I felt guys like Aiden Love, Noah James, Sam Bell and Reice Kennedy played well tonight.”
Keeton scored just four minutes into the game, then added another goal off an assist from Hacker in the 14th minute.
Hacker scored in the 33rd minute to give the Indians a 3-0 lead, before James scored less than a minute later by deflecting a ball off a Rockwood defender to set the halftime score at 4-0.
Keeton added his third goal on a header off a free kick midway through the second half, and after that the Indians played every player on the roster who was healthy.
Oneida finished the district tournament by out-scoring its opponents, Harriman and Rockwood, by a combined 13-0. The Indians had been playing good soccer all season long, out-scoring the district slate — which also included Cumberland Gap — by a combined 28-2 entering Friday’s game.
One of the team’s goals going into the district tournament was to finish it without giving up a goal.
“Defensively I am very pleased with the job Coach Phil Newport has done with those guys,” Keeton said. “They have gotten better every single game. Chase Rushing and Luke White are our leaders back there and they kept us solid tonight.”
Keeton said that Matthew Brown and Rylin Duncan also played solid defense. Brown exited the game with an injury, and Wyatt Yancey stepped in to fill his spot and also played well.
“They did such a good job that Gavin (Keeton, the Indians’ goalkeeper) did not have to do much tonight,” Keeton said.
With the win, Oneida is 13-6 on the season. The Indians will continue to be at home as long as they win. They’ll next face Sweetwater in an elimination game in the Region 2-A semifinals on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The Wildcats were upset by Greenback in the District 4-A championship game on Thursday, 3-2.
Oneida defeated Sweetwater 7-3 early in the regular season.
The winner of Tuesday’s semifinal game will face the winner of Greenback and Rockwood in the region championship.
One thing the Indians’ 2021 district championship has in common with the program’s 2019 district title team is that the hardware was won without the team’s top offensive weapon, Danner Keeton.
Keeton, who earlier this season became the program’s all-time leading scorer despite playing less than two seasons, missed his sophomore season in 2019 with a knee injury. The Indians were considered a long shot to win the district without him that year, but wound up defeating Cumberland Gap in a thriller and advanced all the way to the Class A sectional before losing.
After the 2020 season — in which the Indians were healthy and expected to contend for a berth in the state tournament — was canceled due to Covid-19, Keeton and his team again eyed lofty goals in 2021. Keeton had 32 goals before he injured his other knee in the regular season finale against Knox Central. An MRI confirmed earlier this week that he suffered torn ligaments.
With Mason Keeton, Hacker and Gilbert leading the way offensively, the Indians will now try to continue to advance without the senior leader.
“As a coach you could not be happier for what this team has accomplished this year,” Keeton said prior to Friday’s championship game. “And we are really looking forward to what lies ahead of us over the next week or two.”