LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kornell Hilliard is used to scoring goals for Fern Creek, but what the senior striker did Saturday afternoon on John G. Heber Field might have been the Tigers’ most important goal of their record-setting season.
Hilliard redirected a 30-yard direct kick from senior midfielder Jacob Teasley with 31:15 left in the game to lift the Sixth Region champion Tigers over Second Region winner Henderson County 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 41st annual KHSAA Boys’ Soccer State Tournament at Henry Clay High School’s Dr. Robert J. Bell Stadium.
“I was trying to get in front of (the goalkeeper) and all of the defenders who were trying to mark me,” Hilliard said. “I was just trying to find my best way to get a touch on the ball and put it in the goal and I did that.”
Hilliard entered the weekend having already done that 51 times this season, good for third in the state. However, Hilliard didn’t take any of his team’s three attempts on frame or five shots overall in the scoreless first half.
“I think he was just waiting. Waiting for his time to come,” Fern Creek coach John Pedro said. “We’ve practiced on other teams sitting back and him not getting all the chances but when they do come, to make the most of them.”
Hilliard certainly did that, knocking in a goal that Teasley said took the wind out of the Colonels said.
“I know this isn’t football, but you can’t play one-on-one defense on him like that,” said Teasley, who record his 42nd assist of the year.
Henderson County (16-11) was able to keep the prolific Tigers, who entered averaging nearly four goals per game, in check most of the day. However, a foul well away from the goal proved to do in the Colonels thanks to Teasley’s accurate leg.
Teasley said he wasn’t trying to put the ball on frame as much as he was looking to find Hilliard.
“We’ve been playing together since we were young and he just knows how to pinpoint or find a player and they just know how to put it in,” said Hilliard, who had later chances to add to his lofty scoring total but pinged shot off the crossbar with 14:42 left and going high on a shot in the 18-yard less than four minutes later. “We always talk before the game how we want to set up (on direct and indirect kicks) and he and I just made good eye contact and put it on my head and I scored.”
With Henderson County threatening to become the only team to blank the Tigers this year, Pedro said the foul provided Fern Creek an opportunity to break the game open with Teasley set to see off the direct kick.
“(Teasley) will take our free kicks, for sure,” Pedro said. “I think Kornell kind of had the right idea to kind of screen the goalkeeper and just kind of get a nudge on it and put it in. That was a difficult ball to manage if you’re the other team.”
Henderson County had a difficult time getting anything going against the Tigers’ defense, which has kept 11 straight foes from scoring multiple goals.
“Are you familiar with Thomas the Train?” asked Fern Creek senior goalkeeper Jamison Edwards, who helped earn his team’s 11th shutout of the year. “Well, we never, never, never give up. We don’t stop trying.”
The upstart Tigers’ amazing run will keep chugging along until at least 6 p.m. Wednesday, when they’ll meet Covington Catholic (22-2-2) or Trinity (22-1-2) in the early semifinal at Paul Dunbar.
“It’s a pretty incredible run,” Pedro said. “These guys, you know, they have shown a lot to me. But I never thought in my dreams that we would be here. This team refuses to lose and they refuse to lay down. But this is unbelievable.”