South Mecklenburg, seeded 24, defeated Apex Friendship in penalty kicks to become the 4A soccer champions.

South Mecklenburg, seeded 24, defeated Apex Friendship in penalty kicks to become the 4A soccer champions.

The slipper fits.

South Mecklenburg’s surprising journey ended with the phrase “happily ever after” as they made history by becoming the lowest-seeded team in N.C. High School Athletic Association to win a state championship in any sport.

On Friday, the Sabres, ranked 24th, won the boys soccer final at MacPherson Stadium by defeating Apex Friendship 1-1 (6-5 in penalty kicks).

The following teams have also reached state championships while being seeded 20th or lower: Millbrook baseball in 2015 (21st), Western Alamance boys soccer in 2021 (21st, state champions), East Rutherford baseball in 2016 (23rd, state champions), Cardinal Gibbons girls soccer in 2022 (23rd, state champions), and Middle Creek girls soccer in 2016 (26th).

Instead of using one finger to represent “No. 1” in the trophy pictures, South Meck instead raised two fingers on one hand and four on the other to pay homage to their 24th seed position.

“I have to admit, we had no other option but to accept it. We were aware of our abilities and how close we were to achieving success,” stated Eric White, South Meck coach. “I believe the teams we faced were also aware of our strengths. We were aware of our own potential, but unfortunately, we were making costly errors early on in each game. Once we corrected those mistakes and focused on scoring goals, it all fell into place.”

However, the Sabres (17-6-3) did not appear to be a lower-ranked team on Friday, especially after a evenly-matched first half.

In the 6th minute, Patrick Dion scored a goal off a rebound, giving Apex Friendship an early lead in the game. However, South Mecklenburg quickly responded in the 18th minute with a goal from Patrick Duggan, assisted by Callen Ferguson. Both Dion’s goal and Ferguson’s assist were deflected by defenders before reaching their intended recipients.

South Meck coach, Eric White, stated that they made changes and improved their form. They also made some defensive moves that helped them apply more pressure and cause turnovers. This allowed them to find their rhythm.

The score of the game stayed even at 1-1 for a total of 110 minutes, including halftime, regulation, overtime, and two golden goal periods.

Although the game was tightly contested, the majority of the second half was controlled by South Mecklenburg. Patrick Burling had two near misses, hitting the crossbar on both occasions, with one shot nearly crossing the goal line. Other players also hit the crossbar. The Sabres excelled in winning 50-50 balls, displayed better first touch skills, and prevented Apex Friendship from connecting multiple passes in a row.

White stated that it is a tribute to their determination and resilience as they refuse to give up or be discouraged.

Next were the penalty kick attempts, which proceeded as follows:

  • South Mecklenburg won with a score of 1-0.

  • Apex Friendship — make (tied 1-1)
  • South Mecklenburg — saved (tied 1-1)
  • “Apex Friendship had a tie with one missed opportunity.”

  • The South Mecklenburg team tied 1-1.

  • Apex Friendship tied the score at 1-1.

  • South Mecklenburg is leading with a score of 2-1.

  • Apex Friendship — make (tied 2-2)
  • South Mecklenburg — make (up 3-2)
  • Apex Friendship is currently tied at 3-3.

  • South Mecklenburg — make (up 4-3)
  • Apex Friendship – equal score of 4-4

  • South Mecklenburg — make (up 5-4)
  • Apex Friendship is currently tied at a score of 5-5.

  • South Mecklenburg — make (up 6-5)
  • The Apex Friendship team lost by a score of 6-5 against South Mecklenburg.

Both South Meck and Apex Friendship were successful on their first penalty kicks, but failed on their second and third tries.

Both teams successfully scored on their next four penalty kicks, but the outcome was determined after eight attempts. South Mecklenburg was able to score, while Apex Friendship was not, resulting in a 6-5 victory for the Sabres.

Paul Northcutt, the goalkeeper for South Meck, successfully blocked two attempts and one shot hit the crossbar during the game. He was also named the Most Valuable Player after the match.

South Mecklenburg has a record of five victories in the playoffs, with a total score of 9-1. One of those games ended in a 0-0 tie and went to penalty kicks. They have competed in four championship games, winning in 1971, 2015, and 2023, and coming in second place in 1985.

The Sabres defeated the third, fifth, eighth, and ninth ranked teams in the Western division, scoring a total of nine goals while advancing to the state final against all odds. South Meck had a record of 10-1-3 in their last 13 games of the season.

Northcutt expressed the values of South Meck by stating that they are willing to face any opponent, regardless of location.

Apex Friendship (20-6-1) secured its first spot in the final after winning nine out of its last ten matches and defeating two conference opponents in the first two rounds. As the 15-seed, they also had two road victories to claim the East region.

The Patriots dominated the East bracket, hitting their stride at the perfect moment and outscoring their opponents 17-2.

Prior to the competition, NCHSAA sportsmanship awards were given to a player from each team. Scott Wildes received the award for Apex Friendship while Mac Nalls received it for South Meck.