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Hecker comes up big in goal as Jefferson Forest wins state semifinal thriller
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Hecker comes up big in goal as Jefferson Forest wins state semifinal thriller

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FOREST —Jefferson Forest and James Wood played on through 100 minutes of action, through a weather delay and finally into a handwringing round of penalty kicks Monday night. 

But while everyone else at Sabre Stadium had knots in their stomachs by the time PKs arrived, JF senior co-captain Zach Hinton was confident. He took one look at goalie Christian Hecker and knew enough to make a bold prediction. 

"Goalies are expected to save one PK. I mean, that's just a world-known fact. Goalies should save one out of five PKs. And I told him, 'Christian Hecker, you're gonna save two PKs.'"

Hinton hit the nail on the head. Hecker, Forest's senior keeper who has shined in important moments all season, made two defining penalty-kick saves, the last of which sent JF's student section rushing onto the field in celebration, and the Cavaliers defeated Winchester-based James Wood 3-2 in a wild state semifinal matchup. 

It was a game that entered overtime tied 2-2. Then came two five-minute frames, played out in their entirety even if someone scored (which they didn't), followed by two sudden death periods and then a round of PKs. 

With 2:17 left on the clock in the fourth overtime period, lighting forced a 30-minute delay. It was a shake-your-head moment, because players had already battled through nearly 100 minutes of play on the second night of summer and the game was already more than two hours old. 

The lightning stopped. Then Hecker struck.

The goalie who had six saves prior to penalty kicks dove to deflect the Colonels' first PK try. He then dove to swat away James Wood's fifth attempt. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers (15-0) never missed, getting PK goals from Jacob Gong, Quinn Mackey, Hinton and John Toney for a 4-3 win in the round. 

"First [save] that's a tone setter," Hecker said of his initial PK stop. "That's making them think about what they have to do after that. And then the last one, that's probably one of the best things I've ever had in my life. Just knowing that we're going to a state championship, and watching everyone run onto the field, for me, that's a great feeling."

Toney gave JF a 1-0 lead eight minutes into the contest with a header after a ball struck by teammate Chris Wiley deflected off a James Wood player. The Colonels (14-1) answered in the 33rd minute with a header from Chris Garcia, with the assist from Seth Hammond. 

James Wood took a 2-1 lead in the 66th minute after a JF foul set Garcia up for a PK. Just two minutes later, Toney and Wiley teamed up again. Following a throw in from Hinton, Wiley headed the ball in the vicinity of the goal, and Toney finished it off with a header for his second goal of the night. 

Toney and Hinton played the entire game, minus brief moments they were forced to the sideline after receiving yellow cards. 

"Going from playing 80 minutes and having tired legs and then playing another 20 minutes more," Toney said, "and then going out and taking PKs, it's just crazy."

Toney's third goal of the night gave JF its 4-3 PK lead. 

"It's hats off to the kids that dug deep and battled through this type of environment,' JF coach Scott Zaring said. "It was humid, it was an extra 20 minutes of play, penalty kicks, lightning break, there was so much adversity off the bat, and they were able to muster through it and pull out the result."

Forest now plays at Smithfield at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Smithfield, based in Isle of Wight County, defeated Chancellor 3-1 in Monday's other semifinal. 

JF players now turn their thoughts to the state championship game, which the program last appeared in in 2011, when it defeated Blacksburg. 

"Still have one more game, so as cool as this was and as great as this feeling is, it doesn't mean anything if we go lose on Wednesday night," Zaring said. "But I have faith in these boys and trust that they'll be able to recalibrate and move forward on Wednesday."

But for a few brief moments, there was Hecker, sweat-soaked and exhausted from 100 minutes-plus in goal, adrenaline coursing through his veins by the night's end, his intuition as a keeper the only thing extending JF's season. 

"Chose a side and just commit to it," Hecker said of his PK approach. "It's not about trying to see what they're actually gonna do. It's about your guess and just committing to it and knowing that's the right idea."

 

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