CASHIERS — And the two great rivals will meet again…
On paper, Mount Airy’s soccer team wasn’t supposed to win Tuesday night’s second-round state playoff match with Smoky Mountain Conference champion Blue Ridge Early College, but there was a sneaking suspicion that MaxPreps was underrating the strength of the Northwest 1A Conference. The Granite Bears proved that point by making the 231-mile road trip to Blue Ridge and walking out with a 5-2 victory.
“Our kids played really hard,” said Mount Airy coach Will Hurley. “We did a good job to travel five hours and then come out and play, and now we’ll have to come back on Thursday and play well again.”
The win propels Mount Airy, now 17-6-1 on the year, into a third-round showdown with the Villains (14-6-1) on Thursday in Kernersville. The match is scheduled for 6 p.m. Bishop, the fourth seed in the quadrant and the top seed out of the NW1A, beat Highland Tech 4-0 in the first round last week and then downed Chatham Charter 9-0 on Tuesday.
During the regular season, the Villains beat the Bears in both meetings, although Mount Airy turned in a solid performance when the teams squared off in Kernersville on Oct. 4. After playing to a scoreless draw in the first half, the Bears got a Robert Brown goal in the second, but the Villains scored three times and pulled out a 3-1 victory.
Against Blue Ridge (16-2-1), which came into the match rated as a slight favorite by MaxPreps, it only took Mount Airy six and a half minutes to get on the board, with Austin Tumbarello opening the scoring. However, the Bobcats tightened up their defense and struck back with a goal of their own in the 29th minute to tie the score. With five and a half minutes left in the first half, Matthew Dodd scored for the Bears, and they carried a 2-1 lead into the break.
“They had a very, very small field,” said Hurley. “We really did a good job against them. You could kick it from the center of the field because their field was so small.”
In the 50th minute, 10 minutes into the second half, Jackson Tumbarello gave the Bears a 3-1 edge, but Blue Ridge refused to go away, scoring four minutes later to again pull within a goal. But not for long. Dodd scored again in the 57th minute and the lead went back up to 4-2.
The final 23 minutes were a defensive battle. However, in the 77th minute, Julio Contreras put one away for the clincher, and the Bears prevailed 5-2.
All five of the Mount Airy goals were assisted. Cooper Nester and Contreras had two assists each, and Austin Tumbarello assisted on the other.
Keeper Caden Hill had 15 assists, and drew kudos from his coach for his effort in the net.