By Andrew Mindeman / Director of Athletic Communications
LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- In the long and storied history of the Covenant men's soccer program, there have been countless incredible seasons and moments. Of all those teams, the 2002 Scots are, perhaps, the best of them all.
Headlined by three NAIA All-Americans and a half-dozen All-Appalachian Athletic Conference selections, the 2002 Scots put their mark on the program's record book with 22 victories (22-3 overall) and an NAIA National Tournament appearance that saw Covenant reach the quarterfinal round.
The Scots, under longtime head coach and future NAIA Hall of Famer Dr. Brian Crossman, blazed to a still-program record 13-0 start to the season. That stretch to begin the season included wins over region foes Berry and Lee along with strong AAC wins against King and Virginia Intermont.
In conference play, Covenant rolled to a 9-0 regular season record to produce an AAC championship. Covenant's only two regular season losses came in non-conference play against NCAA Division II member Rollins (2-1) and NAIA-ranked No. 8 Mobile (3-1), the eventual NAIA national champions.
In postseason play, the Scots were tested but prevailed. In the AAC Tournament, Covenant eked out a 1-0 win over Union (Ky.) -- while playing a man down -- in the semifinals on a Matt Jelley goal late in the second half. The following day, Covenant and Virginia Intermont played to a scoreless match before the Scots advanced past the Cobras in PKs to capture the program's fourth AAC Tournament title.
Of note during this season, and from 1999-2002, matches that were determined by PKs resulted in a win or a loss instead of a draw. The PK shootout victory by the Scots over Virginia Intermont resulted in Covenant's 19th win of the year.
The successful season allowed Covenant to host the NAIA Region XII tournament on Lookout Mountain. The Scots defeated fellow AAC foe King, 3-1, in the semifinals to match up with No. 9-ranked Mid-Continent in the championship. With rain pelting down and the venue moved from Scotland Yard to Shadowlands Field, the Scots outlasted Mid-Continent, 4-2, to capture the region crown and a berth into the national tournament.
Covenant made its second-ever NAIA National Tournament appearance in program history count.
Facing Illinois-Springfield in the first round, junior Tim Cobb scored twice late in the second half and the defense -- highlighted by the play of keeper Phillip Bleecker -- blanked the Prairie Stars en route to a 2-0 win. Cobb's eventual game-winner, assisted by Roddy Chisholm, came with 12 minutes left in regulation and Cobb added a second goal in the waning seconds of the match to secure the win.
The victory was Covenant's first in a national tournament in program history.
"We played really well," said Crossman at the end of the match. "It was a great all-around effort, and Phillip Bleecker really made a couple of great saves for us."
The season came to a close the next day, but it took top-ranked Auburn-Montgomery to finally knock off the Scots.
During the season, Covenant climbed as high as No. 5 in the NAIA Top 25 and stayed in the national rankings for nine consecutive polls.
Covenant produced three NAIA All-Americans as Chisholm earned third team honors, while Cobb and Ben Kellogg garnered honorable mention. Within the AAC, the Scots put four players on the first team led by Chisholm, Cobb, Kellogg, and Kyle Smith. Sheldon Grizzle and Michael Krom were second team selections. Crossman was the AAC and Region XII Coach of the Year.
With those 22 wins, the 2002 Scots became just the second team in program history to total 20-plus wins in a season, joining the 1990 squad that went 20-3. The 13-match win streak during the season is tied for the second-longest in program history and the Scots' 11 shutouts are tied for third all-time in the program's 58 seasons of existence.
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