The Dobyns-Bennett senior didn’t need long to find his footing.
O’Neil scored and set up another goal during a fine second-half display in Saturday’s 7-1 win against Powell at Indian Highland Park.
Day 3 of the Jon Metcalf Invitational did not began as well as the Tribe would’ve liked. However, the Indians (9-3-2) upped the intensity after the break and simply swamped the Panthers with wave after wave of attacking efficiency.
It was such a dominant performance that junior David Geno, D-B’s foremost goal threat, saw action at goalkeeper for the first time in his career.
“We were more relaxed,” O’Neil said. “I think we’re just a second-half team. We moved the ball well, were more incisive and finished.
“I don’t think anyone can beat us when we’re playing at our best.”
The Indians will need to be at, or close to, their best today in the tournament’s title match. They’ll be facing city rival Sullivan South — who followed Friday’s impressive 2-1 victory over Morristown West with a pair of wins Saturday — for the second time this week. D-B ran out decisive 3-1 winners Tuesday night in a crucial District 1-AAA contest.
Today’s championship tilt is slated for 3 p.m. at Eastman Park at Horse Creek.
“This is perfect,” said South coach Stephen Fuchs, following the Rebels’ 3-0 result against Seymour. “I’m glad it worked out this way.
“D-B’s a great team and I enjoy playing them. I think whatever happens, it’s good for both of us. It’ll get us ready for postseason play.”
Following a disappointing 1-1 draw with Lenoir City on Friday, business appeared to have resumed Saturday morning for the Indians when Craig Mitcham handed them a lead after six minutes. Instead, Powell (1-6-2) leveled just four minutes later. The Tribe enjoyed a lot of possession over the next 20 minutes, yet had nothing to show for it.
“In the first half, we moved the ball well but we weren’t creating scoring chances,” D-B coach Shane Calvert said. “We possessed well in midfield, but didn’t have much in the attacking third.
“We’ve got to get better in the first half,” he added. “We’ve got to get hungrier.”
Geno showed plenty of hunger in the 29th minute to put the Indians ahead. The striker exploded down the left flank before pulling the ball back across goal. Panthers defender Kyle Palko, attempting to clear the ball, instead headed into his own net.
A third arrived just two minutes later. Geno took a short corner to the edge of the area before letting rip. His strike veered through traffic and was sublimely dummied by Ben Lewis 6 yards from goal. The bit of trickery left Powell goalkeeper Garrett Rudd no chance.
There was more to come in the second half.
Just eight minutes into the period, O’Neil unlocked the Panthers’ defense with a beautiful through ball to Geno. The talisman did the rest with a thunderous finish that ricocheted off the underside of the crossbar and down over the goal line.
Chase Givens added to the Tribe’s tally in the 57th following a passage in which both Geno and O’Neil had efforts blocked. O’Neil netted two minutes later, and Matt Merrow finished off the scoring in stoppage time.
Givens was among several reserves who put in outstanding shifts Saturday.
“We’ve only got five seniors this year and we’re playing a lot of kids, which bodes well not only for the postseason but for the future,” Calvert said. “There’s no drop-off, either. We still play good soccer and that makes the future bright for this program.”
Things appear to be on the up for South (10-1-1) in the here and now.
The Rebels opened Saturday by stopping Webb by a 2-0 scoreline. Later in the evening, much like D-B earlier in the day, South used a strong second half to dispatch Seymour.
Jake Agner’s strike 17 minutes into the opening half — set up by Adam Fenyves’ superb set-piece delivery from midfield — put the Rebels ahead against the run of play.
Then, in the second half, South came alive.
Connor Braaten’s cool finish in the 47th doubled the South lead. Adam Griffith, again superb, followed from the penalty spot after 60 minutes.
“I was looking forward to this tournament when we made the schedule,” Fuchs said. “The guys have started trusting each other, and our chemistry is better.
“All around they’re becoming a great team. I’m proud of them.”