Emotions always run high when rivals East and Highland meet on the field. But this season, the Leopards have a little extra on their minds every time they step out.

East has dedicated its season to former coach Mike Kernodle, who passed away last spring.

"Before every game we meet over on the hill and wait for him to give us some inspiration," said senior Lauren Porter of the hill adjacent to the East soccer field affectionately called Kernodle Hill. "We know that he gives us that little extra boost that we need."

East needed every boost it could garner as it took two overtimes before Saralyn Drury scored a golden goal to give the Leopards a 1-0 win over third-ranked and previously unbeaten Highland.

"I was proud of how hard the girls played," said Leopards coach Rudy Schenk. "I thought they deserved the win. They outshot, outpossessed, had more corner kicks and had better chances to score — but give Highland credit. They kept fighting hard and rejected everything we threw at them."

Highland entered Thursday's contest with four consecutive shutouts in Region 6. It nearly made it a fifth straight, going 95 minutes before Drury ended the 415-minute shutout streak posted by Rams keeper Erica Owens. Drury collected a ball about 30 yards from the goal and took a couple dribbles to her right before blasting a rocket toward the top-right corner of the net. The ball deflected off the hands of a diving Owens before settling in the goal and setting off a tremendous celebration.

"I knew I hit it pretty well," said Drury, "but I didn't know for sure it was going in until I actually saw it hit the back of the net."

Highland had a couple of scoring chances, the best of which came on a penalty kick in the 63rd minute where the shot sailed high over the goal. But overall, East controlled the play for long stretches. Midfielders Tessa Nicolaides, Susannah Hertz, Tara Tolbert, Heather Hillam and Porter displayed a deft passing game before pressing up to forwards Anna Solomon, Jen Gardiner and Drury.

"I thought they kind of had a bend-but-don't-break defense," added Schenk. "We had a lot of shots, but their keeper did a great job, and we didn't do as well with our shots as I would have liked."

While the loss was painful for Highland (it dropped the Rams into a second-place tie in the region with East, one game behind Murray), coach Lloyd Siegendorf said there were several positives in it.

"We played right with them, and we'll get another shot at them at our place," he said. " I was proud of the effort the girls gave. It is not easy to go out there and run for 90-plus minutes in the hot sun. We'll learn from this and get better from it."

East has now won five straight after dropping its first two games.

"It took us a little while to get adjusted, but now that we all know where everyone should be and how to play together, I think we should be very strong the rest of the way," Porter said.

E-mail: mblack@desnews.com