It wasn't easy or quick, but the Chattanooga Football Club took care of business Saturday night at Finley Stadium.
Needing a win in its season finale to clinch the National Premier Soccer League Southeast Division title, CFC got a putback goal from Michael Brooks in the 87th minute and edged the New Orleans Jesters 1-0.
"We came out here and we had to perform," Brooks said. "The crowd was incredible tonight, and we couldn't have done it without them."
The announced crowd of 2,988 roared after Brooks' goal and after a few testy final minutes -- which included a Jesters bicycle kick that hit the post -- celebrated in the stands as the players hugged on the field.
CFC (6-1-3) wins the Southeast with 21 points. It came in with 18, one ahead of the Gulf Coast Texans. Rocket City United also was still in the hunt with 14 points and two games left on its schedule.
Brooks' goal and CFC's third shutout in four games made anything the Texans or United did moot. It also earned CFC a spot in the four-team South Conference playoffs, which begin July 12 at a site to be determined.
For the bulk of Saturday's game CFC was the more aggressive and more effective squad, putting several good shots on goal. And for more than 80 minutes, New Orleans (3-4-2) was able to fend off the many CFC attacks.
Jesters goalkeeper Jon Hilton made several diving saves, including one off a John Carrier free kick in the third minute.
Thibault Charmey also nearly got one by Hinton, in the 24th minute. More good chances came, but the game remained scoreless at halftime and on into the final minutes.
"Their goalie was brilliant and it took a great effort by our guys," CFC second-year coach Bill Elliott said.
As the minutes ticked by, and as word spread via Twitter that the Texans had taken a 1-0 lead early against the United, CFC raised its intensity. Some substitutions provided fresh legs and the CFC attacks took on a sense of urgency because a loss would have opened the door for the Texans or United to win the division.
"I think we were definitely feeling more pressure as the game went along," said defender Andy Stewart, a fourth-year CFC player. "We kept saying, 'It's come, it'll come,' and it came right at the end."
Stewart nearly scored in the 86th minute when Hinton was unable to send away a corner kick and Stewart headed it toward the goal. A Jesters defender was able to step in and head the ball away for another corner kick.
Moments later, Charmey sent a hard, low shot that Hinton had to go to the ground to save, and Brooks was right there to send the deflection into the net, drawing a massive roar from the crowd.
"It was just another scrum in the box, and I was in the right place at the right time," Brooks said.
CFC played without two starters but now has a little time to rest after three games in eight days.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...