Lejeune defeated Franklin Academy 3-2
Seniors Broden Wilhelmsen and Logan Levell experienced the lowest of lows of the Lejeune High soccer program.
It was only two years ago when the Devilpups went 1-15 . The lone victory came over Northside-Pinetown, a team that also won just once that season.
“And now we have a winning record and are heading to the regional final,” Wilhelmsen said. “It’s just one of those years when you get the right kind of guys where you can build a great team.”
The Devilpups (12-5) are certainly at the opposite end of the spectrum from two seasons ago.
On Saturday night, fourth-seeded Lejeune defeated ninth-seeded Franklin Academy 3-2 to advance to the NCHSAA 1-A East Regional final, where they will visit second-seeded Voyager Academy (20-3-2) on Tuesday.
The winner of the regional final advances to the state final in Raleigh on Saturday.
Lejeune hasn’t played in the regional final since reaching the state championship game in 2004 and hasn’t won a state crown since 2002.
Now, the Devilpups are one victory shy of a return trip to the state title game following a victory over Franklin Academy (18-5-1), last year’s state runner-up, which topped Lejeune 10-2 last season in the third round. The Patriots won the state title in 2015.
“I look at how long it’s been and I can’t believe it is us doing it,” Levell said. “I can’t stress how much I’m proud of this team. It’s just a great feeling.”
Wilhelmsen said he doesn’t take Lejeune’s postseason run for granted, given he played on a team two seasons ago that was outscored 119 to 15.
He added that the struggles he experienced as a sophomore make him appreciate this year’s Lejeune team more.
“Oh, 100 percent,” he said. “I know when we go out here in the playoffs, it could be our last game so we give it our all.”
However, there’s just one drawback about making it his far, Levell said.
“I just wish it would have happened sooner,” he said. “It’s my senior year, my last year.”
Led by Levell and Wilhelmsen, the Devilpups appear to be a resilient bunch that isn’t easily rattled.
Twice Franklin Academy pulled to within a goal against Lejeune, but the Devilpups didn’t lose composure. In fact, Lejeune was quick to respond after the Patriots’ Luis Peters scored the first of his two goals in the first half to cut the Devilpups’ lead to 2-1.
Lejeune extended its lead to 3-1 with 5:52 left before halftime when freshman Peter Sullivan scored off an assist from Levell – 24 seconds following’s Peters’ first score.
“When they scored, everyone just kept their heads in the game and no one put their heads down,” Sullivan said. “We were able to get another goal after a good pass from Logan.”
Lejeune coach Charles Teegarden wouldn’t have expected his team to respond in any other way.
“We don’t get too overly excited or too anxious,” he said. “We continue to play soccer. You don’t see us take short cuts and you don’t see us with body checks. We don’t run our mouths. We just play soccer.”
And the Devilpups don’t mind facing adversity, Wilhelmsen said.
“It’s been natural for us over the years to always have our backs against the wall,” he said. “These guys give it their all and find a way to get it back.”
The Devilpups’ mental strength, however, was tested again when Peters scored 7:35 into the second half to pull the Patriots to within 3-2. And while Franklin Academy continued to create chances – a point-blank shot was saved by goalkeeper Hayden Williams – Lejeune’s defense never broke again.
“I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I was pretty nervous at the end,” Sullivan said. “But I think we did a good job of staying in the game until the end. I think when we play as a team, everything clicks.”
With Teegarden enjoying the ride.
He is one win away from joining Francisco Blanco, Thomas Lloyd and Glenn Davis as coaches who have led the Devilpups to the state soccer finals.
“I’m not saying I’m in any of that class, but I’ll say these boys have worked their rear ends off,” Teegarden said. “They play as hard as they can and they work as hard as they can work. We don’t have a feeder program or kids who play for four years. These kids are here for two or three years if we are lucky. So to have this group of boys now is amazing.”
Franklin Academy 1;1;–;2
GOALS–F: Peters 2. L: Wilhelmsen, Levell, Sullivan. ASSISTS–L: Levell. IN GOAL–F: Rodriguez (2 saves). L: Williams (4 saves). SHOTS ON GOAL–F 8, L 5. CORNER KICKS–F 4, L 4. RECORDS–F: 18-5-1, season complete. L: 12-5, at Voyager Academy on Tuesday in regional final.
Chris Miller can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by calling 910-219-8472. Follow him on twitter @jdnsports.