PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry broke a 1-1 tie in the second half to beat Mount Airy and force a three-way tie for first place.
The Cardinals and Villains of Bishop McGuinness were a game back of the Granite Bears going into the final match Wednesday. The 2-1 win gives them all identical 7-6-1 records in the Northwest Conference.
The Bears have the better nonconference record, but that doesn’t figure into seeding for the state 1A playoffs.
The first tiebreaker is a team’s head-to-head record with its opponents, but all three teams split their matches with each other.
In these cases, the conference goes by whom the teams tied. The Cards are considered the top seed from the Northwest because they gave West Stokes its only tie in an undefeated NW season (13-0-1).
Mount Airy and Bishop won’t know their seeding until this weekend.
The Wildcats claimed the NW conference title and top 2A spot. Surry Central is the second 2A seed with a 12-2 record.
Coming into the season finale, both coaches were feeling a little leery.
Bear Coach Will Hurley saw his team give a strong effort against Bishop just the night before and was worried about playing another tough team the very next day.
Coach Bill Hart saw his team play a great game last Thursday to beat North Surry 6-0, then lay an egg on Monday as South Stokes got its first win of the conference season.
On this night, however, “this was a well-played, hard-fought game by two teams and two coaches that really respect each other,” said Hart. “This is the way high school soccer was meant to be played: aggressive, but clean.”
East Surry controlled the ball more at the start, but couldn’t capitalize.
The Cards appeared to have scored one goal as keeper Alex Mayo made a good stop, but very close to the scoring line.
After the officials conferred with the coaches, East Surry got a penalty kick. East booted a hard roller toward the left post, but Mayo dove on the ball for a save.
The Cards finally broke through as Brody Gentry chased down a pass on the right side and centered the ball to Cole Casstevens near the 6-yard box for a score.
The Bears answered later in the first half off a scramble play. Two players went up to try for a header, and the ball was bouncing around rapidly before Tyler Wall chased it down and booted it in from the left side.
At halftime, the Cards honored their three seniors: Andrew Bryant, Omar Duran and Caenan Johnson.
One of those seniors had a hand in the final goal.
Bryant, also known as Ajax, made a hard run down the left side, pressuring the defender into knocking the ball out the back line. That earned the home team a corner kick.
Souli Boutis took the kick and fed it to Ethan Atkins for a header to break the 1-1 tie.
That goal came just two minutes into the second half, and neither team could score the rest of the way.
“Hats off to Coach Hart, he does a super-good job,” said Hurley. “I knew it was going to be tough.”
The coach said he felt bad for his guys who showed signs of fatigue. He said he told his team afterward that they got East Surry’s best effort, while they just weren’t able to give their own best effort.
“Our goalie just played an awesome game,” Hurley said of the senior Mayo. “He’s going to be missed.”
The coach said the Northwest coaches will get together Saturday to discuss the all-conference team. He and the Bishop coach will draw from a hat to decide which team is second and which is third.
The teams will find out who they play either Sunday or Monday, noted Hart.
The preliminary bracket appears to show the three Northwest seeds all getting home matches, said Hurley. If that is the case, then Mount Airy would be hosting a playoff game for the first time in the program’s history.
Mount Airy would host this game next Wednesday, while East Surry will have a first-round bye.