Panthers fall just short of glory in Sun Belt Final

Photo Submitted by GSU Athletics

The Sun Belt Conference Men’s Soccer Tournament is over, and with it goes the Panthers’ 2020 soccer season, as the team finishes their season 9-2-2.

The team put together another great year with head coach Brett Surrency collecting his 100th career win as a head coach.

Georgia State led the nation with 24 goals scored and boasts several players with conference recognition.

George Proctor picked up his second Sun Belt Player of the Year award and received his first Defensive Player of the Year Award. Aris Briggs earned his second Offensive Player of the Year award.

Along with those achievements, Georgia State featured on the first-team All-Sun Belt Team: Briggs, Fearnley, Ross Finnie, Proctor, Ramon Munoz and Paul Tyson. 

Georgia State hoped to reach its sixth-straight conference championship match with so much achieved in the regular season. They had to get through the third-seeded Central Arkansas Bears first.

An early seventh-minute goal from the Bears (in the last minute) marked the first goal the Panthers conceded in the first half of any game this season. Georgia State responded with increased aggression from a Georgia State team that looked out of sync with themselves. Small errors and miscommunication led to visible frustration from all 11 players, most notably the attacking three.

That frustration held over to the second half as the Panthers finally took their first shot of the game in the second half. Briggs and Fearnley also became more involved, but they still trailed, and time went by rapidly.

With desperation setting in, freshman Alex Henderson found the back net at the 87th minute off Proctor’s assist. The Panthers found new life and hoped to save their undefeated streak at home in 2020.

After two 10-minute extra periods, the scoreboard still read 1-1. Thus, additional time decided the semi-final. 

Would a home-field advantage hold true as junior Logan Luque thought?

“We haven’t lost on our home field this year, much less conceded a goal. So home-field advantage is definitely a thing for this team,” Luque said before the semi-final.

Gunter Rankenburg replaced Paul Tyson in goal for Georgia State and iced the shootout with a crafty fake to throw off the Bear’s shooter, then ended it 4-2 with a save to propel Georgia State back to the championship match.

After playing 110 minutes plus penalty kicks, the home-field advantage may have been more so hometown advantage, making sense why Luque and team were happy about hosting the Sun Belt Tournament.

“The idea of a long away trip where you’re staying away from home for almost a whole week is never a fun thing. So when we heard it was going to be hosted by us this year, we were all happy,” Luque said.

In the finals, the top-seeded team in the Sun Belt, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, opposed the Panthers for their fourth meeting in the last five years.

The much-anticipated final seemed like it would end in a closely contested affair. Georgia State played nearly 73 minutes without Proctor after he received an immediate red card.

The Panthers still attacked and faced pressure throughout the match. But, they managed to hold their own each time to outlast the Chanticleers’ strong attacking front. Ultimately, the Panthers made it to overtime, and penalty kicks decided their fate for the second time in two days.

No one can question the Panthers’ fitness as injuries and cramps from the opposing teams halted both games numerous times, while Georgia State kept play moving.

However, fitness and toughness were not enough. In a match of similar skill sets, Georgia State fell in penalties 4-3. With the loss, the Panthers end a strong season, and Coastal Carolina advances to the spring’s NCAA Tournament.