FRANKFORT — Henry Macfarlan was among the shot leaders on the season for Henry Clay entering the 11th Region title game Saturday.
Senior Aime Mabika said Macfarlan, a sophomore, has taken "the most shots on the team times five." The problem? He wasn't connecting.
"It got to a certain point where we were like 'Henry, stop shooting,'" Mabika said with a laugh. "Cause it's basically a turnover."
So in storybook fashion, Macfarlan went from the butt of jokes to Henry Clay hero after his straight-on strike in the 74th minute found net. The goal gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 win over Paul Laurence Dunbar at Capitol View Park.
Nick Whitehouse had the assist to Macfarlan off a strong ball from Chris Hurt. Whitehouse said he knew the sophomore's shot was good as soon as he released it.
Macfarlan finally has an answer for his teammates' good-natured ribbing.
"They've been making fun of me all season for not scoring," Macfarlan said. "They said 'You've gotta score when it counts.' I guess I did."
The win put Henry Clay in the state tournament for the first time since 2011, when it was in the 13th Region. Dunbar ended the Blue Devils' season in the 2013 and 2014 region finals.
This year Henry Clay turned the tables and avenged a 1-0 regular-season loss to the Bulldogs.
"I thought the effort was just great out of everyone," Dunbar senior Ricky Clemente said. "We put on a good season."
The loss snapped a streak of six straight state tournament appearances by the Bulldogs.
Henry Clay maintained the majority of possessions and limited Dunbar to only two or three shots all game. The Blue Devils generated far more set opportunities than did Dunbar, but they couldn't get several good balls to go because of the play of Travis Shuler.
The Bulldogs' keeper had several highlight-reel saves before finally surrendering the goal to Macfarlan. Mabika, a University of Kentucky commit, called Shuler "fantastic."
"He was making some saves that I've never seen before," Mabika said. "There was a header that we had and I started running up and I looked up and nobody was celebrating. I was like 'no way.' Credit to him."
The field, dry and hard all week, was subject to a steady drizzle leading up to and during the game, producing sloppy conditions that made it difficult for Henry Clay to lock in on its possessions, Devils Coach Tim Bernardi said.
"I think at first our kids were a little bit scared to go in hard for tackles," Bernardi said, "because they knew if they had to stop and cut, they were just going to go sliding."
The Blue Devils travel to 12th Region champion Mercer County (21-3-1) for the first round of the state tournament at 7 p.m. Monday.
That game pits two of the top scoring defenses in Kentucky against each other. The Titans have allowed just 13 goals all year, best in the state; Henry Clay's 17 goals allowed this year — 13 in the regular season before giving up four to Madison Central in the 11th Region semis — are tied with Belfry for fourth fewest this season.
"I feel like we're the best team in the state," Mabika said. "But that doesn't matter. ... We just have to go hard every single game. It could be the last game we ever play, it could be the last practice we've ever had.
"I just want to end my high school career with a trophy at the end with these guys 'cause I really love these guys."
Henry Clay 1, Paul Laurence Dunbar 0
11th Region championship at Capitol View Park, Frankfort
G—HC: Macfarlan (74').
GK—HC: Gregory. PD: Shuler.
Records: Henry Clay 20-2-1, Paul Dunbar 18-7-1.
11th RegionTournament MVP: Colby Rose, Henry Clay
11th Region All-Tournament team: Colby Rose, Henry Clay; Nick Whitehouse, Henry Clay; Josh Strange, Henry Clay; Collins Rose, Henry Clay; Aime Mabika, Henry Clay; David McIver, Franklin County; Mason Parritt, Franklin County; Colton Tate, Lexington Catholic; Trent Marshall, Lexington Catholic; Sam Perkins, Madison Central; Rodgers Kelly Kibet, Madison Central; Hunter Jackson, Madison Central; Tanner Kidwell, Madison Southern; Garrison Cooper, Madison Southern; Travis Shuler, Paul Dunbar; Justin Kelly, Paul Dunbar; Ricky Clemente, Paul Dunbar; Amir Simons-Miller, Paul Dunbar; Robbie Goodman, Sayre; Willy Martin, Sayre; Zach Devore, Woodford County; Jason Murillo, Woodford County; Jax Young, Woodford County.
Henry Clay's game-winning goal:
Henry Macfarlan sends a beautiful ball into the goal to put Henry Clay up 1-0. Five minutes left. pic.twitter.com/Fi3nxgP0aJ— Josh Moore (@HLpreps) October 24, 2015
Henry Clay's post-game celebration:
Henry Clay will represent the 11th Region in the state tournament. Blue Devils advanced 1-0 over Paul Dunbar. pic.twitter.com/4DxpHFd3WR— Josh Moore (@HLpreps) October 24, 2015