The National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) Annual Fall Soccer Tournament was held at Fort Bluff Campground, Dayton, TN, October 28-30, 2020. The King’s Warriors Soccer Club participated in the tournament for the 9th straight year. Thirteen players made the trip this year, and they were treated to some wonderful experiences.
The rain from Hurricane Zeta started soon after they arrived on Tuesday night, October 27. With high hopes, the King’s Warriors took the field the next morning against undefeated Jacksonville (NC) Christian Academy. A turnover in midfield resulted in Jacksonville’s first goal, but the Warriors defense stiffened and appeared to be headed for halftime only down by one. But with only a minute left, a series of defensive miscues allowed a second goal. After regrouping at halftime, the team battled on. They played well most of the time, only to have brief lapses of concentration. The solid Jacksonville team took advantage of the errors to score two more goals, and hand the King’s Warriors a 4-0 defeat, which was closer than the score indicated.
After a brief rest, the Warriors prepared to play Rhea County Christian School (TN), but the field conditions were ruled unplayable. The ongoing rain had saturated the fields, and players could hardly walk across the pitch without getting mired deep in mud. Their Tuesday afternoon game was moved to another field and played that night under lights. Shortly before game time, the fog rolled in. It was so thick the opposite side of the field was not visible, and both goals were hidden if one was looking from midfield. The game was played as much by sound as by sight. Eli Blevins drew first blood with a long shot that the Rhea County goal keeper could not see coming, but Rhea County quickly countered with three goals of their own. Chance Blevins then struck to draw within one. After halftime, Chance Blevins beat the opposing keeper a second time to tie the game 3-3. Rhea County then scored to make it 4-3. Despite their valiant efforts, the Warriors couldn’t find the tying goal, and closed out pool play with a 4-3 loss.
The three goals scored were the most a King’s Warriors team had ever scored in a pool play game, and they were enough to push the Warriors into the #3 seed position in Division 3. The division playoffs were set to begin Thursday, Oct. 29, but with the torrential rainfall continuing until that morning, the tournament directors made the difficult decision to cancel the day’s games. They hoped the fields would drain and be playable the next day.
The West Virginia team used the off day to visit local attractions. They first went into downtown Dayton to tour the courthouse grounds. The Rhea County courthouse was the scene of the 1925 infamous “Scopes’ Monkey Trial,” that pitted evolutionary theory against Biblical creation. From there the team traveled across the Tennessee River to the Cherokee Removal Museum, where they learned about the unlawful forced eviction of the Cherokee people and the Trail of Tears.
The day was beautiful, warm, clear and sunny. During the excursion, they received text notification that the tournament would resume that night after chapel. During a coaches’ meeting late that afternoon, it was agreed that divisional play would resume based on seeding, but games would be shortened, and there would be no consolation bracket. These unprecedented measures were undertaken to protect the fields and the safety of the players.
The very first game under this new format was to be played Thursday night under the lights at 8:30 after chapel, and featured none other than the King’s Warriors Soccer Club vs. Apostolic Knoxville Christian School. The King’s Warriors dominated the match from the opening kickoff. They were finally rewarded after Chance Blevins ripped a powerful shot that the Knoxville keeper couldn’t handle. Aaron Smith was there for the rebound, knocking it in for a 1-0 lead. In the second half, Smith had a shot deflected by the keeper. He got to the ball first, and pushed it across the goal mouth to an unmarked Angel Taylor, who calmly redirected the pass across the goal line for the 2-0 win. Jake Dickens posted his first NACA clean sheet.
The team then settled into the bleachers to watch the next game between Tennessee Christian Prep School and Chattanooga Southeast Home Education Association, because they would face the winner the next morning. Chattanooga appeared to be the stronger team, but TCPS scored a late goal to seal an unexpected 3-2 win.
The King’s Warriors coaching staff developed the plan for the semifinal game against TCPS. Realizing the competition was bigger and faster, they instructed their charges to work the flanks, holding the ball as long as possible, and controlling the flow of play as well as the game clock. The goal was to obtain the shutout and win with a single goal, or take it to penalties. The King’s Warriors executed the game plan to perfection. They controlled the match; though they didn’t score, they held their opponent to a 0-0 tie, and forced the game to penalties.
The King’s Warriors took the first kick. Designated penalty kick taker Chance Blevins stepped to the spot first. His kick was placed perfectly, but the TCPS goalie guessed right and made a beautiful dive to block the shot. The first TCPS kicker scored to put the King’s Warriors behind. Isaac Beckett stepped up next. He shot high to beat the keeper: 1-1. Keeper Jake Dickens then smothered the next TCPS attempt. Eli Blevins then put the Warriors up 2-1. The next TCPS shot bounced off the crossbar. Jonah Blevins then stepped to the spot, beat the TCPS keeper, and put the King’s Warriors ahead 3-1. Goalkeeper Jake Dickens came up huge again with another great save that capped the win, and sent the King’s Warriors into the championship final.
In the Division 3 championship, the King’s Warriors faced off against long time friend and competitor Eukarya Christian School, from Stephens City, VA. Eukarya was big, fast, and athletic. They had multiple subs and a strong bench. The Warriors were feeling the effects of their strenuous games. With injuries and illness, the King’s Warriors took the field with just their starting eleven, and no substitutes. “Iron man” soccer, and 7 of the 11 were not at 100%. Nevertheless, they gave it their all.
Eukarya had the better run of play, but the Warriors stayed strong and went to halftime tied 0-0. They finally gave up a goal in the second half, and then a second. Not willing to give up their dream of a championship victory, they continued to press for a goal. Finally the opportunity came when Eukarya was called for a handball in the box. Chance Blevins beat the keeper but was denied by the left goalpost. In the subsequent fight for the ball, the Warriors won a corner kick. Eli Blevins sent in a beautiful in swinger, which the goal keeper misjudged. As he leaned toward the goal to make the save, he realized he was falling into the goal. He attempted to play the ball into the field, but in so doing, he carried the ball across the goal line. The astute linesman caught it, made the call, and the King’s Warriors were back in it, 2-1.
By this time, many of the Warriors were out of gas and running on empty, but they refused to quit. With only about a minute to play, Chance Blevins again broke into the penalty area. Dribbling laterally to his right, he rounded his markers and drove the ball across the goal mouth. Aaron Smith streaked past his defender and beat the keeper with an incredible one touch shot. But the same linesman’s flag was up; Smith was declared offside, and the goal was negated. The debatable call took away the 2-2 tie and the chance for another penalty kick shootout. The 2-1 loss was the closest of all the 2020 championship finals, and the 2nd place finish was the highest a King’s Warriors team has ever attained.
The King’s Warriors also placed two players on the All Tournament Team – goalkeeper Jake Dickens, and midfielder Angel Taylor. At 13 years old, Jake is undoubtedly one of the youngest players ever selected. Angel was the only girl selected, and surely one of the few – if not the only – female soccer players ever to be named to the All Tournament Team.
The season was a great success, enjoyed by a fabulous group of young people. They definitely made their coaches, families, and fans proud. Their final record was a very respectable 9-5-1. A season recap will follow shortly. After a two week break, the King’s Warriors Soccer Club will kick off their futsal (indoor soccer) season. For information on joining the King’s Warriors, you may call coaches Dr. James Blume (304-466-4946), or Jonathan Windle (540-958-1509).