SUWANEE — A flawless record. The top ranking in the nation. A state championship.
“Special” might not adequately describe what Lambert’s boys soccer team has achieved.
The Longhorns scripted the happiest of all possible endings to their storybook season and left no suspense in the final chapter Friday night, annihilating No. 4-ranked Greenbrier 5-0 at The Horn to win the Class AAAA state championship.
Bakawsu Kinteh was nearly unstoppable in the final game of his high school career, scoring all but one of Lambert’s goals and finishing with a whopping 44 for the season.
“This is like a dream,” said Kinteh, draped in one of the many flags of his native country of Gambia brought to the game by Lambert fans.
“I just want to share this moment with the team — they’re like a family to me. I’m really happy to be at Lambert and be part of this.”
Kinteh got undefeated Lambert (23-0), ranked No. 1 in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association, on the scoreboard against the Wolfpack (20-2) in the 10th minute.
Senior Brendan Everett sent a long free kick in front of the goal. Greenbrier’s keeper initially stopped the ball but couldn’t hang onto it, and Kinteh sent an awkward shot into the net while falling to the ground.
Kinteh struck again in the 30th minute, collecting the ball after Greenbrier’s keeper stopped a shot by one of his teammates before shooting it into the net.
Lambert carried that 2-0 lead into halftime after goalkeeper Michael Zambetti stopped a close-range shot that coach Chris Wilson called a “game-changing” save.
Wilson, who won a state championship at Grayson in 2007, went through the agony of seeing a perfect season slip away earlier in his career while coaching the girls soccer team at Oak Mountain High School in Alabama.
In the championship game, his 29-0 Oak Mountain squad allowed a 2-0 lead to dissolve into a 3-2 loss.
“You talk about deja vu,” Wilson said.
“Two goals, you think you’re in the driver’s seat, but the moment the other team scores the momentum completely shifts and you start panicking.”
But Zambetti’s save kept the Longhorns ahead 2-0 going into halftime, and Cooper Coughlin scored the team’s critical third goal seven minutes into the second half.
“I haven’t had much stuff to do throughout the season, so I felt like I had an obligation to fulfill the role in the back,” Zambetti said, crediting the defense in front of him for keeping the ball from getting to him often.
“I looked at the picture of the team when we were in the locker room and I almost started tearing up because I knew this was my last year, so I wanted to go out with a bang.”
The shutout was Lambert’s 16th of the season.
Coughlin later streaked down the right side of the field in the 61st minute, before crossing the ball over to Kinteh, who shot past both a defender in front of him and the keeper to boost the score to 4-0.
Kinteh tacked on his final goal in the 72nd minute, once again dancing around in front of a defender and the keeper before firing the ball into the net.
Like Kinteh, Bobby Hopper, the team’s junior forward, was just happy to be a part of Lambert’s season. Hopper was an integral member of the Longhorns’ squad last season, but didn’t figure to be a part of the team this season after moving with his family to Texas in the offseason.
He returned to Lambert shortly before the spring semester began.
“I decided I missed this team way too much and I needed to be here, so I moved back,” Hopper said.
“First game, when [Connor] Cushman got [a season-ending injury], someone had to step in. I was willing to do that.
“I didn’t care, I just wanted to win.”
But the third-year Longhorns didn’t just win this season, they dominated, outscoring opponents 100-8 on the way to the program's first state title. Their final game was merely the exclamation point.
“I am so proud of our guys,” Wilson said.
“Trexler Bennett, my junior captain in the center-mid, dominated [Greenbrier’s] two Division I college signees that are great players. Every player on our team just stepped up tonight.”
Said Everett, a team captain: “We’ve worked so hard for this every day. It all paid off.
“This is the best feeling of my life.”