FLOWERY BRANCH — Hayden Gensler doesn’t know exactly what happened, but the White County senior is sure glad it did.
With his Warriors soccer team down 2-0 to Cherokee Bluff, and also down two men after a series of yellow cards late in the second half, Gensler put on a show for the ages in an eight-minute span.
Gensler scored three goals in a 100-second span to erase the lead and added a fourth minutes later as the Warriors rallied for one of the more improbable 4-3 victories in recent memory.
“I don’t really know what hit me but I just felt I needed to do something and this feeling just came over me,” he said. “Once I got that first one the intensity of the team just picked up. It's hard to describe and was just unbelievable.”
The win also kept the Class 3A fourth-ranked Warriors (8-2, 3-0 Region 7-3A) atop the region standings all alone. They pushed their win streak to seven as well.
“This was a huge win for us,” White County coach Jon Leventhal said. “It’s a tough region so every win is big. We have another big one with West Hall coming up so the two guys we lost from red cards could be a factor.”
Gensler’s first goal came off a short feed inside the box and he blasted a low shot from 12-yards to pull them within 2-1 with 19:10 left. After a Bluff foul, Gensler headed in a pass off a direct kick to tie the game just over a minute later and then 30 seconds after that he stole a pass and beat Bluff keeper Harrison Carter on another low shot to give White County a stunning 3-2 lead with 17:21 left.
His final goal was set up by a beautiful pass from Andrew Pierce with just under 11 minutes remaining for a 4-2 lead. The Bears (5-5-1, 3-1 Region 7-3A) got back within a goal on Garrett Wayne’s penalty kick with two minutes left but the Warriors were able to hold off several Bluff charges in the waning seconds.
The torrent of Gensler goals overshadowed what had been a near-impenetrable Bears defense for the first 60 minutes.
“Bluff was really playing tough and we had trouble for most of the first half getting anything solid,” Leventhal said. “The guys just kept their head in the game after losing the two guys and we started getting some synergy. They never quit.”
Both offenses came out ready to attack to open the match. The Warriors had three shots sail just high in the opening 10 minutes while the Bears also had three scoring chances in the opening minutes. But none found the net.
That changed in the 17th minute when Bluff’s Thomas Williams gathered a loose ball 10-yards out and slid a low shot past Warriors’ keeper Triston Morris for a 1-0 lead. Five minutes later, following a White County foul just outside the box, Wayne blasted in a 20-yard shot on a direct kick to make it 2-0.
Despite the offenses continuing to stay on the attack, it stayed that way until Gensler went off. The Warriors had three corner chances and two shots that sailed just high again over the final 18 minutes of the first half. The Bears had four corner opportunities, including three point-blank range shots that Morris was able to thwart.
The Warriors pressed the attack in the second half but their aggressive play also resulted in several yellow cards, and two players getting red cards. They went down one man with 35 minutes and went were two-men down with 25 minutes left.
However, Bluff was playing a defensive posture and did not take advantage. They had one breakaway moments after the second red card but could not convert.
Then Gensler, who now has 27 goals in 10 matches and has already broken the single-season record for the Warriors, took over.
Cherokee Bluff had plenty of chances during Gensler’s onslaught, missing three shots within five yards before Wayne’s PK goal. The Bears also had two breakaway attempts, one resulting in a goal, called back in the final minutes for offsides.
Cherokee Bluff next will play host to Gilmer on Wednesday in another region showdown.
White County will play host to West Hall on Tuesday in region play.