his match took 48 hours to complete but it was worth the wait.  The Jesters traveled from New Orleans to Hattiesburg twice, were delayed by weather twice, conceded five goals, and yet they never gave up.  Resilience is inadequate to describe the Jesters on Friday night.  But when the sky finally cleared, it was the Stars that shone the brightest, defeating New Orleans 5-4 as they advanced to the Gulf Coast Conference Championship to defend their 2021 title.

Jesters Head Coach Kenny Farrell shared his thoughts on the match.

“Southern States is a very talented side with a lot of skilled players and a very good system,” Farrell said. “We had pretty much a young side that stepped up and made Southern States work for everything.”

The Stars came into the match as the #4 team in the nation in goals scored.  Southern States had 19 shots (16 on goal), and they scored on five of them.   The Stars felt like they would pull away after each goal, yet the Jesters responded almost immediately.  As Farrell stated, the Jesters made the Stars work for it.

The match began on time, but after only seven minutes played, the teams were sent off for lightning.  As heavy rain fell, The Oakes’ majestic turf looked more like a swimming pool than a soccer pitch.  The weather delay lasted over two hours, but when the rain stopped, the field magically drained, and the teams came out ready to play.

The Stars looked dangerous immediately with confident possession and several shots on goal.  The scoring started in the 26th minute when the Stars’ Mason Walsh controlled a ball that came off the Jesters’ crossbar to score an artistic, unassisted goal near the top of the box.

Ten minutes later, Walsh was on the finishing end of a brilliant team sequence.  It started with the Stars defense clearing a Jesters corner kick to left winger Jean Lucas Rivera Murillo.

Rivera Murillo received the ball in his own half and then made a series of creative moves to elude two defenders before sliding the perfect pass to a steaking Mason Walsh.

Walsh, in evading his defender, drifted to the right side of the penalty box and then unleashed a wicked shot into the left side netting to put the Stars up 2-0.  It felt like a dagger goal.

In the 45th minute, Jesters’ top scorer Maximiliano Galizzi exhibited a moment of individual brilliance.  He received a long pass, shielded his defender, made a turn into the Stars’ box, and then chipped the ball past the goalkeeper.  The goal was an impressive piece of skill from the nation’s #3 ranked goal scorer, and it was a much-needed morale boost for the Jesters going into the half.

Not to be outdone, the Stars came out of the locker room energized and jumped ahead 3-1 in the 46th minute.  Defender Sam Dadzie pounced on a loose ball in the Jesters’ penalty box and celebrated with his teammates.

The celebration was short-lived, however, as Jesters midfielder Alexander Blanche responded with an improbable goal in the 56th minute.  On a counterattack that began in the Jesters’ midfield, Blanche streaked down the left sideline and deftly put in a near post goal to make the game 3-2 Stars.

The match now felt tense.  Despite controlling possession and the run of the play, the home crowd at The Oakes began to feel restless.  That feeling didn’t last long.  In the 75th minute, Walsh returned the assist to Rivera Murillo.  Walsh made a series of moves to evade defenders near the Jesters penalty box, and then he spotted a sprinting Rivera Murillo on the left side who banged in the goal to put the Stars up 4-2.

The very next minute, Jesters attacker Luciano Galizzi countered.  After receiving a long pass, Galizzi controlled it in the box and scored a stunningly fast goal to bring the Jesters back and make the match 4-3 in the 76th minute.

The anxiety in the crowd was now palpable.  The Stars players, however, never seemed rattled.  The Stars maintained possession and capped a sequence with a brilliant team goal that started with substitute Manuel Ferriol.  Ferriol is the type of player that draws eyes because he is creative yet always under control.  Ferriol created space with deft footwork and played Rivera Murillo into the Jesters’ box.  Rivera Murillo had an opportunity to take a shot, but he spotted midfielder Sebastion Jorgge and made an unselfish pass that allowed Jorgge to get free in front of the Jesters goalkeeper.  Jorgge’s goal put the Stars up 5-3 in the 81st minute.

The Jesters never said die.  In the 86th minute, Jesters forward Tony Judice took the breath out of The Oakes.  Judice had entered the match only minutes earlier.  However, the 37-year-old veteran put in an improbable goal after a scrum in the penalty box to make the match 5-4.

The referee awarded six minutes of stoppage time and in the waning minutes, the Jesters earned a corner kick that sent everyone forward including their goalkeeper.  The Stars’ defense managed to clear the corner and pressed ahead on a counterattack that resulted in Rivera Murillo setting up to send in a shot from midfield into the empty New Orleans net.  The play was halted by a strategic foul by the Jesters.  The Stars held on to win a highly competitive game against their rivals from New Orleans.

Stars Head Coach Carl Reynolds discussed the result.

“It’s like we’ve played the longest game in history,” Reynolds said. “Like we played a game that lasted 48 hours.  And the crazy thing is we don’t even have time to really think about it as our heads turn to Jacksonville.”

Reynolds shared his thoughts on his squad.

“I thought going forward some of the goals we scored were tremendous,” Reynolds said. “But defensively, collectively, we have a lot to do to be better.  That’s from the front all the way to the back.  I think sometimes it’s easy to look at the defenders.”

The man of the match was Walsh with two goals, one assist, and numerous winning plays.  He commented on the ups and downs of the weather delays.

“I think it is about managing the energy levels,” Walsh said. “The coaching staff did a fantastic job of managing that for us and the boys did as well.  We came out and scored goals early.”

As has become routine, the Stars displayed dazzling talent, crisp passing, strategic organization, and elegant play.  But what made this match a classic was the resilience of the Jesters who responded each time they were knocked down.  New Orleans lost all three matches against the Stars this season.  Nevertheless, these two geographic neighbors are developing a gripping rivalry in the Gulf Coast Conference.

Photo Credits: Jesse Johnson/Southern States SC