ONEONTA _ Oneonta High is one win away from clinching its first girls soccer division title since 2003.
Not bad, considering the Yellowjackets are two years removed from their only losing season in program history.
With perhaps its best athlete on the bench with an injury and facing a one-goal deficit at the National Soccer Hall of Fame, OHS got two second-half goals from Monica Jones for a 3-2 Southern Tier Athletic Conference victory over perennial power Maine-Endwell.
The Central Division-leading Jackets improved to 10-0-1 in conference play with three STAC games remaining. Second-place M-E dropped to 9-3.
"This is a huge win, especially without Lauren because she kind of holds us together," Jones said of senior Lauren Payne, who injured her right foot after a collision with M-E's Caroline Grosso and Nicole Osovsky in the penalty area with 19 seconds left in the first half. "But we did it and we'll do it again. It was an amazing win. We're all freaking out."
Jones' go-ahead goal with 9:49 remaining barely crossed the goal line, creating a little controversy.
After controlling a chipped pass from the midfield near the top of the penalty box, Jones turned and drove a high, hard shot toward the left-corner of the goal. Spartans goalie Colleen Kutney leaped, but the ball powered through her hands. Kutney then turned toward the goal and caught the deflection over her shoulder but appeared to be over the line. After a moment's hesitation, a referee ruled Kutney was over the line when she caught it.
"She's as honest as the day is long and she was adamant it wasn't in," M-E coach Chris Holleran said of his goalie.
Jones saw it differently.
"I could tell," she said. "I was jumping up and down. I definitely could tell (it was over the line)."
Shortly after the goal, Holleran asked that a group of Oneonta fans positioned near M-E's goal be moved. OHS coach Jerry Mackey walked down the field and told the fans to move to the bleachers on the opposite side of the field.
"I wish I had done it earlier," Holleran said, adding the fans may have influenced the referee on the decisive goal.
OHS (12-0-1), which won the STAC title in 2003 with a 1-0 victory over Union-Endicott, can clinch the Central Division today by defeating host Seton Catholic Central.
"That's why you coach and that's why you play," Mackey said. "You want to be in games like this. You have some games where the talent level isn't even and you tolerate those and get through it, but these are the games when there's a little extra bounce in your step. You can tell the girls' stomachs are churning during fourth period and lunch time. I like that buildup. I think people who are athletes like that feeling."
If a theme arose Thursday, it was that all the goals came on long shots that had almost no margin for error. The shortest of the five goals came from Payne in the first half, and she was 18 yards out.
"Almost all the goals were legitimate strikes from 20 yards, and that's testament to the talent of the girls who took those shots and the defense," Mackey said. "Both teams played sound defensively, so it was tough to take it to the goal. Most of the quality moves came from 35 yards to 20 yards out and then the defense stiffened up."
Payne gave OHS a 1-0 lead with 14:29 left in the first half. She controlled the ball at the top of the box and, with a defender on her back, turned right and drove a shot into the upper-right corner.
M-E answered 9:48 before halftime, when Keggen Griffith dribbled past two Oneonta defenders _ going from right-to-left _ near the left corner of the box before driving a left-footed shot from 20 yards inside the far post.
It stayed that way until M-E's Jamie Holiday scored on perhaps the toughest shot of the day. She hit a curling shot from close to 30 yards over OHS goalie Heather Graig and inside the left post.
Holiday's 22nd goal this season marked the third time this season OHS faced a deficit. The Jackets rallied from a 1-0 hole to beat M-E, 2-1, in their first meeting this fall. They also fell behind Chenango Forks, 1-0, in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie.
"We don't feel sorry for ourselves," Mackey said of playing from behind. "At that point, it makes it kind of simple. It doesn't matter if you lose, 3-1, 4-1 or 5-1, because I'm not a stats guy. You push up and you get one. You have to win 50-50s, you have to go forward and you have play numbers up."
And so, OHS did.
The tying goal started with a free kick from inside midfield. Cha Cha Naito, who created havoc for M-E defenders most of the day, received a long ball just outside the penalty box and was fouled from behind by Holly Pitts.
Jones quickly set up for the direct kick and lined a 20-yard shot inside right post to tie it at 2.
"The defenders set up the wall really, really slow and then (Kutney) was standing behind the wall and I just wanted to set up as soon as possible to hit it where she wasn't standing, because it was wide open," Jones said.
Mackey said he was uncertain of Payne's status for today's game against SCC. Although Osovsky came from behind and stepped on Payne's foot inside the penalty box, no foul was called. Payne tumbled to the ground on the play, and Mackey eventually carried her off the field. She walked gingerly after the game.
Along with Payne, Graig, Naito, Jess McCue, Lindsey Doxstader, Rachel Sason and Nora Walker all played on the OHS team that finished 8-9-1 in 2005. The Jackets improved to 11-8 last season.
"It's really a lot better this year," second-year varsity player Jones said. "We've turned it around from last year. It's awesome."
Oneonta 3, M-E 2
Maine-Endwell1 1 _ 2
Oneonta1 2 _ 3
Maine-Endwell (9-3, 9-3): Keggen Griffith 1-0, Emily Dibella 0-1, Jamie Holiday 1-0, Kaitlyn Cook 0-1.
Oneonta (12-0-1, 10-0-1): Lauren Payne 1-0, Monica Jones 2-0.
Shots-corner kicks: M-E 7-0; O 11-2.
Goalies: Colleen Kutney (M) 7; Heather Graig (O) 3.
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.