McLean falls to Herndon in heartbreaking district championship loss

Despite timely goals, Highlanders come up short of banner victory

McLean players experience the pure despondence of the loss.

After defeating the Langley Saxons in a nail-biting 2-1 match, the McLean Highlanders boys soccer team traveled to Herndon High School for the district championship match. Although the Highlanders had a dominant season, the Hornets were a thorn in their side. Herndon beat McLean 3-2 in their lone matchup, a defeat which has stuck in the minds of the Highlanders.

“We have some bad blood with Herndon,” senior Jalen Holiday said. “We want to win the game regardless. The district championship is just a plus.”

To prepare for the game, McLean chose to pay special attention to Otu Bisong, a star sophomore for the Hornets. Bisong is a crucial facet of Herndon’s attack, and McLean entered the game in hopes of mitigating his impact.

“Lately we’ve been playing more defensive and have had myself on [Bisong] in case he [gets] the ball because he is their key player,” Holiday said.

McLean shot out of the gate with a tap-in goal from star striker Gage Lyons less than a minute into the contest. Although McLean had the early 1-0 lead, Herndon was not fazed, immediately putting the pressure on the Highlanders. The Hornets controlled possession after the score, constantly putting shots on the net, all of which were stifled by the Highlanders’ ever-trustworthy senior goalkeeper Dillon Prestige.

The Highlanders got an amazing opportunity on a counterattack, one of their first great scoring chances since Lyons’s goal. Sophomore Joe Margita couldn’t get a good touch on the ball, and the shot sailed over the crossbar. After Margita’s try, the Highlanders dodged disaster by way of a header which missed just wide. Right afterwards, Prestige came out of the penalty box in order to sweep away a loose ball which would have been a point-blank scoring opportunity. McLean’s good fortune eventually ran out, as the Hornets evened up the score on a free kick with five minutes left in the first half.

The game had an especially physical component to it, a testament to the tension between the squads. Players were pushed over left and right, and the referee got plenty of work raising his arm to deliver yellow cards. Four minutes into the second half, Bisong made his first mark by capitalizing on a scrum near the net, giving Herndon a 2-1 lead and sucking the wind out of McLean’s sails.

A series of deflating events hit the Highlanders shortly after Bisong’s goal. Prestige had to leave the game due to an injury, junior Caffrey Eaton got a yellow card for a handball and the referees missed a handball against Herndon that would have given McLean a penalty kick. However, sophomore Ada Karatepe snapped the cold streak when he flew into Herndon’s penalty area to convert a cross from senior Nathan Jun, tying the game at 2 goals apiece.

The momentum was back in McLean’s favor, amplified by a huge defensive play from animated defenseman Will Saxon. After another yellow card was granted to a Herndon defender, the Hornets were forced to play with one less player. A man advantage typically corresponds with a victory, and McLean’s fans became invigorated with the realization that a district championship could be within reach.

However, it was not meant to be. With less than two minutes left in the game, Bisong got the last laugh, volleying in a shot with the outside of his foot to give Herndon the unrelinquishable lead. When the final whistle blew, McLean had to watch in despair as their nightmare from the previous season replayed in front of them.

“There was a lot of pressure coming into this game. We played well, but [at the end] we just couldn’t come through,” junior midfielder Graham Courey said. “We were in a similar spot last year where we lost important games in the playoffs. We used that to fuel our state run, and we have a lot of the same guys from last year, so we should be able to do that again.”