NEW ORLEANS -- A sensational season ended in cruel, cruel fashion for Byrd at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans Saturday night.

Just when it looked like the Lady Jackets would go to extra time for the second game in a row and third straight year against Mt. Carmel, Cubs junior Hope Hoffman slid in to bury a rebound off the crossbar and the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Maddy Talbot. The final whistle blew on Byrd’s 2-1 Division I state title loss less than 30 seconds after the ensuing kickoff, causing nearly every Lady Jacket to collapse to the ground in tears.

Hopefully when they look back, they’ll remember a 27-match unbeaten streak that culminated in a remarkable effort at the school’s first championship appearance in 20 years. They should remember how Hope Miletello assisted fellow senior Kyra Montes in the fourth minute game for just the second goal in the last 16 games against Mt. Carmel, who struggled to contain the two forwards all night.

“I am so proud of the girls,” coach Lisa Levermann said, giving credit also to senior Robinson Humphrey. “No one wants to finish second, but I (can) go on and on about how awesome of a season we had. The great leadership we had.”

Still, they didn’t even want to accept the Runner-Up trophy following a brutal finish eerily reminiscent of last season’s quarterfinal, when Mt. Carmel scored just before penalty kicks for a 1-0 win. Levermann said after giving up a 24th minute goal to Hoffman, Byrd fought back well and solved many of its early issues in the second half, even creating multiple golden opportunities.

Unfortunately, at least in the immediate aftermath, Levermann and her players may be tempted to focus their attention more on the referee’s decisions in the final moments that left questions about both the decisive play and the foul to create a superbly taken free kick from Kat Dehoog. Levermann said Hoffman pushed defender Maggie Weldon from behind to get to the ball, and the Cubs’ senior captain who didn’t play all season until the second half of the final because of an ACL tear wouldn’t have had an opportunity if not for a whistle on a slight push that didn’t seem to be a foul for the first 60 minutes of a physical match.

“That was not a flagrant foul,” Levermann said. “I’m not sure why he called that, but that’s what happens. We move on and I’m extremely proud of the girls.”

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