PERKINSTON — A late penalty kick for Mississippi Gulf Coast let the Bulldogs clinch a playoff berth Saturday, capping off a 2-1 win at Bary Thrash Field over Meridian.
"That was exactly what I thought it would be, a fight to the very end because both sides knew the winner was going to go to the playoffs," Gulf Coast coach Jackie Rhodes said. "To see us fight back and get that goal at the very end was fun."
The Bulldogs (3-11-1, 3-4-1 MACJC South) finishes third in the division, and they'll travel to Itawamba on Oct. 22 for the state quarterfinals. They got goals by Hannah Helms (So., Southaven/Southaven) and Chloe Fell (So., Woodhey/Bury, England), the last with 30 seconds on the clock.
Nobody scored until the second half, but the opener was a spectacular one, a rare Olimpico. Helms lined up for an in-swinging, right-footed corner kick, and it looped directly into the far-side net.
"We've been practicing corner kicks a lot," she said. "I wasn't trying to do that, but I was looking for Chloe like I always do and it just kind of curled in. I was like, 'Oh, my God. That's going in!'"
Her goal in the 53rd minute nearly stood for the winner, but Meridian equalized in the 81st minute.
Overtime looked a certainty until Gulf Coast spun a cross into the box in the final minute. The Eagles keeper leaped to catch it but didn't, and a defender behind her handled the ball to keep it out.
Fell rifled her penalty kick into the top of the net to punch a ticket to the playoffs.
"It's so crazy to think we've made the playoffs after such a rough season but I'm so happy with that win," she said. "We couldn't have done anything more. We were pushing through to the end. I'm so happy."
The Bulldogs capped a season sweep of the Eagles (2-11-1, 1-6).
"It's not been a pretty year, but sometimes that's the way it is," Rhodes said. "You just have to win the right games and make the playoffs."
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