FLORENCE — It took a half to do it, but Florence’s soccer players eventually shook off the rustiness Friday afternoon in its first game in 13 days.
The Falcons, who had their previous four games canceled because of poor weather, played through snow flurries in a chilling 37 degrees, and their relentless offense started clicking after halftime of a 1-0 win against Mars Hill to open the Florence Soccer Challenge.
Florence created no fewer than seven scoring opportunities in the final 30 minutes and broke through for the deciding goal by Joel Garcia in the 38th minute.
“We had a little rust, not having played, trying to get everybody on the same page,” Florence coach Glenn Harscheid said. “You can try to recreate game situations in practice, but it’s just impossible. We finally got some intensity and things really started to jell. We talked about playing fast in the attacking third and keeping positive. I was happy with the second half.”
The Falcons (2-1-1) followed with a 2-all tie against East Limestone in their second game of the day.
Pool play concludes today with Florence playing East Limestone at 8:30 a.m., while Mars Hill faces East Limestone and Muscle Shoals gets Pope John Paul II Catholic High School at the
The three pool winners in the 12-team field and a wildcard team decided by points advance to the semifinals at 2 p.m. with the championship game scheduled for 5 p.m.
Florence and East Limestone are tied atop Pool A, and both teams could advance with wins today.
Defending tournament champion Florence has never won its pool at the tournament but took a step in that direction with its opening win.
The Falcons controlled possession in their attacking third for most of the first half against Mars Hill. Still, the Panthers finished the period stronger, creating two scoring chances in the final 12 minutes.
Off a corner kick, Ethan Smith delivered a header from 8 yards out that went just wide right of the upright.
Then with 1:30 left in the half, George Archard took a shot from the middle of the 18-yard box, testing Florence goalkeeper Pete Morse, who responded with his only
“That was scary,” Florence middle-back Sam Henderson said. “Even though we had control, if one of those goes in, it changes the game.”
The second half belonged to the Falcons.
Milton Tama threatened with a tough-angle shot inside the 6-yard box that went wide left in the 35th minute.
Justin Whitten followed with a scorcher from the center of the 18-yard box that barely cleared the crossbar in the 37th minute.
A minute later, Florence won a 50-50 ball in their attacking third. Whitten took possession on the flank and found a crossing Tama, who slipped a through-pass to Garcia for the go-ahead score.
The Falcons created four more scoring opportunities, missing a shot from 8 yards out a minute later, rattling a header off the crossbar in the 47th minute, missing another shot in the 52nd minute and testing Mars Hill goalkeeper Austin Swinea on a free kick in the 54th minute.
Trailing Tama in motion, Whitten fired in the free kick from 25 yards, forcing Swinea to make a tip save over the crossbar.
Mars Hill’s best second-half scoring chance came on a free kick from 23 yards out that sailed high with 10 minutes to play.
“At halftime, we really talked about keeping calm,” Whitten said. “We hadn’t played in the four games and we were antsy. We wanted to score goals but we couldn’t be too direct about it because the field was too patchy.
“Three points is a step in the right direction. It’s a confidence booster. Now, we need to buckle down now. We’ve always talked about if this is the team that can do it when it matters. We have to get through pool play.”
Florence 2, East Limestone 2: Whitten scored both goals for Florence, including the equalizer off an assist by Tama in the second half.
Whitten also scored on a free kick in the first 30 minutes, but the Falcons trailed 2-1 at halftime.
Fort Payne 3, Muscle Shoals 0: Fort Payne used a quick-striking offense to seize control early.
The first goal came five minutes in, and Fort Payne scored all three in the first half.
Mars Hill 0, Albertville 0: Swinea came through with a save on an Albertville penalty kick midway through the second half to preserve the tie.
Jeremi Vo led the Panthers’ defense.
Muscle Shoals 1, Cullman 1: Muscle Shoals struck first on a corner kick in the first minute of the second half, but the Trojans couldn’t hold the lead.
Landon Letsinger scored off a corner from Ilam Ali, her third assist of the season, to put Muscle Shoals ahead.
with the equalizer with 9 minutes to play, and the Trojans missed a go-ahead attempt just outside the 6-yard box
on a corner in the final seconds.
Pool play concludes today with Florence playing East Limestone at 8:30 a.m., while Mars Hill faces East Limestone and Muscle Shoals gets Pope John Paul II Catholic High School at the same time.