STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) - Georgia Southern had their first Sun Belt soccer title in their grasp.
That is, until it was ripped from them by their arch rival Georgia State.
“This is going to sting for a little while," admits head coach John Murphy. "It’s raw right now. It’s going to be a tough locker room to walk in to.”
Georgia State senior Hannes Burrmeister netted three goals, including the game-winner in the 83rd minute to help the Panthers rally past tournament host Georgia Southern and claim their first Sun Belt championship and NCAA Tournament berth.
The Eagles trailed State 1-0 at half after Burrmeister’s penalty kick goal, but rallied in the second half.
An early Southern offensive flurry was stonewalled by the Panther back line, but a disastrous mistake allowed the Eagles to get on the board.
Javier Carbonell stole the ball from Panther goalkeeper Kyle Lancaster, then scored in the empty net to tie it in the 66th minute. Just six minutes later, Aldair Cortes' free kick found the back of the net from 30 yards out to give the Eagles momentum and a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to play.
“We felt like we’ve gotten a foot hold back in the game," Murphy says.
But the advantage wouldn’t stay in Southern’s favor long.
State tied the game in the 75th minute as Burrmeister buried a second penalty kick for the equalizer, then the Panthers took the lead as Burrmeister chipped the ball past Eagle keeper Jokull Blaengsson to make it 3-2.
“In our game, there’s a lot of momentum swings," Murphy says. "You have to try and blunt theirs when they’re on top and obviously maximize yours when you’re on top. I just didn’t think we did that today.”
The Eagles had one final chance to tie in the waning seconds, but State countered. With every Eagle including Blaengsson on the attack, State’s Frank Rosenwald was able to score in the empty net and seal a Sun Belt title for the Panthers.
After the game, Murphy made the Eagles stay on the field to watch the Panthers celebrate the win. The veteran coach says he hopes it helps his young team remember the lessons from the loss.
“We have to take these lessons, take them in, and have some class and dignity," he says. "The future’s very bright for our program right now. We’re going to keep moving forward.”
The Eagles are now 0-2 in Sun Belt Conference championship games and 0-6 all-time in men’s soccer conference title games.