DOBSON — Surry Central’s soccer team avenged a defeat that had rankled them for a year, but it didn’t come easily in Saturday’s first round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs.
For the last two years, the Golden Eagles have hung out in a group of about a dozen or so teams rated at the top of the pack in the 2A ranks. Central tied Western Piedmont Athletic Conference rival Forbush for the title last year, and finished second to them this season after dropping two highly competitive matches. Still, that was enough to earn them a No. 6 seed in the regional and a first-round playoff match.
Last year, in a similar situation, the Eagles were shut out by a senior Lincolnton goalkeeper who dragged his team to victory in a shootout after the teams played 110 minutes without a goal being scored. Despite losing their star, the Wolves still had a solid 2016 season and once again found themselves matched up with Central as the 2016 postseason got under way.
The Wolves’ Graham Willis gave his team a 1-0 lead with three minutes left in a first half in which the Eagles (18-4-1) had gotten the better of play on the field throughout, but just like a year ago, were unable to get a ball into a Lincolnton net that seemed to have a lid on it. However, this time around, it was more a case of what Surry Central wasn’t doing than what the Wolves were doing.
“That’s a crucial place not to let a team score, with momentum going into halftime,” said Surry Central coach Blake Roth. “It doesn’t take a soccer enthusiast to know that (Willis) is their best player. We just made a stupid error, we let him get loose and didn’t mark him.
“It was a midfield battle, not too many shots on goal. We needed to possess the ball, and we didn’t do that because we weren’t keeping the ball on the ground.”
Roth told his team to be patient and stop playing into the visitors’ hands by playing longball, and eventually, the Eagles got Lincolnton back on its heels and forced the Wolves to play defensively. Finally, early in the 53rd minute of play, Miguel Tello got the equalizer, and Central finally had a goal against Lincolnton after 173 minutes of being shut out in regulation over two seasons.
Over the next several minutes, each team had chances to take the lead, but the Eagles remained ascendant in possession time, and their attack finally paid off as time ran under five minutes and the spectre of overtime loomed. With 4:24 remaining, Julio Sanchez took a shot from about 14 yards out with the Wolves’ keeper leaning the wrong way, and his blast put Central on top.
The Eagles used delaying tactics for the last four and a half minutes of the match, during which Lincolnton (9-8-3) never mounted a serious threat.
“It was an ugly win, but an ugly win is better than a beautiful loss,” said Roth.
Surry Central will visit Hendersonville (17-2-0) in the second round on Tuesday night. The Bearcats won the Western Highlands 1A/2A conference title this season. The only common opponent between the two schools is Central’s WPAC rival West Stokes, whom Hendersonville defeated 5-4 in Saturday’s first round. The Eagles beat them 3-1 and 6-1 in their two meetings.