When Lynchburg attacked, Randolph countered. When the Hornets scored, the WildCats responded.
So it went for 60-plus minutes as the sun set at Shellenberger Field on Tuesday night. Randolph had the answers and the grit to stand toe to toe with one of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference’s premier teams, UL, on the Hornets’ home turf nearly all game long.
But for a few moments, the WildCats may have been headed to the league tournament’s semifinal round for the first time in six years. Luke Mega, though, capitalized in those fateful seconds, exploiting the moments of weakness for a game-deciding goal that sent Lynchburg to a 3-2 win and ensured its season would remain alive for at least a couple more days.
“Just disappointing to present that to them kind of on a platter,” Randolph coach Adam Godwin said.
On his second score of the night, Mega found his way past WildCats defenders who were a step behind.
The sophomore forward dribbled to the center of the field, cut back left and pushed the ball ahead to easily get past his defender. A touch with his right foot and moment of hesitation froze the center back for just a second, but it was long enough for Mega to get off a clean shot that found the right side of the net.
“It was all kind of just instinct,” Mega, the conference’s second-leading scorer behind Randolph’s Evan Blow, said.
Mega bookended the night with goals for UL (6-3-1), the No. 4 seed that had home-field advantage over No. 5 Randolph (5-3-1) via a tiebreaker. The Hornets are two wins away from securing the title of ODAC champ, a title elusive since 2017.
At Shellenberger Field, Lynchburg improved to 11-1-1 over Randolph, whose winless drought against Lynchburg stretches back a decade to Nov. 5, 2011. The Hornets are 15-2-3 in the series and 7-1 in the postseason over RC, the lone win for the WildCats coming in that November 2011 matchup that paved the path for their last ODAC title.
Randolph never led Tuesday night, but that streak still looked like it could be in jeopardy for stretches. Blow, who tallied his 11th goal of the season, gave Randolph the momentum in the 57th minute.
On their heels against Randolph’s attack, the Hornets were whistled for a hand ball in the box, giving Blow a chance to go face to face with Lynchburg goalkeeper Kyle Gallagher (four saves) on a penalty kick. Blow got Gallagher going to his right before easily finding the back of the other side of the net, tying the game at 2-2.
“I was pretty confident,” Blow said of the score. “You could hear everyone [Lynchburg fans] yelling, but it’s fine. I’ll take my breath and put it in.”
The goal followed a score from Wes Boor (Nelson County High), who started the comeback bid when he made a run down the right side and rocketed the ball into the left side of the goal off a pass from Noah Carney in the 31st minute.
Randolph, Godwin contended, showed it “deserved to be in the game” with the two goals, scoring “because we were playing well, because we got the scout right, because we read them.”
Boor’s goal, his second of the season, came nine minutes after Josh Auger finished off an assist from Nick Foley for UL in the 22nd minute.
Mega opened the scoring for UL, slipping behind one defender and in front of another for an easy shot off an assist from Joey Daley in the 16th minute.
His game-winner, though, was a dagger in a game that featured teams otherwise evenly matched.
“It feels like we gave them the game when we played well, so it’s really frustrating,” Godwin said. “[Mega] scored with a decent shot, but from my perspective, the shot should never have occurred. So we’re frustrated that we conceded a goal as weak as that. … At 2-2, I felt like we were the only team who was go on to win the game ... and you just can’t come here to Lynchburg and give up three weak goals — you’re never gonna win the game.”
Lynchburg had two more shots (17 to 15) and shots on goal (eight to six) than Randolph. Both teams also took six corner kicks.
“I think everybody was holding their breath anytime anyone went forward; I think it could’ve been a 5-5 game,” said Lynchburg coach Chris Yeager, who is hoping for his sixth ODAC title as Lynchburg coach and aiming to increase the program’s conference-leading title haul to 17 all time.
Coaches and players from both teams, who met for the first time officially since 2018 (which also was a win for Lynchburg in the ODAC quarterfinals), described Tuesday’s game as a battle they all were ready for.
“I said to all the players afterward, ‘That was a hell of a game, and probably one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,’” Mega said. If the Hornets continue answering the bell against tough teams and “play with some passion and when we play with some fire,” he added, “we think we’re the best team in the ODAC.”
Lynchburg secured a road game with No. 1 Hampden-Sydney in the ODAC tourney semifinals Friday. The Tigers prevailed over No. 8 Ferrum in a penalty kick shootout in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Randolph concludes its season with its best win percentage, .611, since 2015.