DOBSON — For much of the first half, the Surry Central soccer team was dominating its Thursday evening soccer match with West Iredell.
At least everywhere but the scoreboard, that is.
A patchwork Golden Eagle defense, with the help of a midfield that wouldn’t let the visitors move the ball into the opposing end, held the Warriors without a single shot on goal in the first half. However, the Golden Eagles couldn’t score either — and when they finally did with less than two minutes before intermission, the way it played out bordered on bizarre.
Things started when Central’s Arturo Lopez collided with the West Iredell keeper on a loose ball quite some distance from the goal with just 1:52 remaining in the first half. The Eagles had possessed the ball for roughly 80 percent of the first half, and Lopez had actually missed a penalty kick eight minutes earlier that would have given his team the lead.
Following the collision, Lopez was shaken up and had to come out of the game. The Warrior keeper received a yellow card for his actions, although several on the West Iredell side were arguing that Lopez, who spent most of the match playing out of position due to the Eagles being shorthanded, was the one at fault. In any case, Central was awarded another penalty kick, which Julio Sanchez took.
The keeper guessed correctly on the PK, which Sanchez drilled into his gut so hard that he couldn’t prevent a rebound. The ball went right back to Sanchez, who put it into the net for a goal.
Or was it? At first, the referee waved it off, claiming that it had hit the post and was therefore a dead ball. Play continued, but then at 51.7 seconds left, the goal was awarded and West kicked off.
“The referee thought he’d heard the ball hit off the post,” said Surry Central coach Blake Roth. “If it hits off a post, the player who kicked the (PK) can’t touch it first. But then he said that it had hit off the kid’s stomach.”
The half ended with the Eagles (4-0) ahead by that slim 1-0 margin. The Wildcats were more aggressive against the Central defense in the second half, which resulted in some opportunities for their offense, but it also opened up more chances for the home team.
“Their coach is a smart guy, and he made some changes that caused us to lose some momentum,” said Roth. “We had different kids in to start tonight, some housekeeping issues prevented a couple of kids from playing, and we were down three defenders tonight. My motto to the kids is that ‘our best defense is our offense.’ We have to do that to keep the pressure off of the kids who haven’t normally played back there.”
Central’s offense struck again in the 46th minute, when a ball got past the West Iredell sweeper and resulted in Miguel Tello and Hernan Garcia racing toward the Warrior goal with no one back to defend. Tello crossed to Garcia in front of the net, and the latter finished to extend the Eagles’ lead to 2-0 with 34:24 remaining.
The rest of the match was played on essentially even terms, with each team managing a goal late in the contest against the other team’s tiring defense.
Central’s came first, when the Eagles’ attackers had penetrated deep into the Iredell end of the field. Sanchez crossed the ball across the face of the goal to where two teammates had set up about six yards outside the left post. Nolan McMillen got a foot on it for Surry Central, which duly extended its lead to 3-0 with just 5:13 to play.
The Warriors (1-1-1) tallied a face-saving goal with 3:48 left to avert the shutout, but the Eagles’ defense kept them safely away from the net for the rest of the match.
“That (goal) was a mistake on our part, but when you’re down three starting defenders and get this kind of effort, I’ll take that,” said Roth. “We did a lot of positive things out there tonight.”
The home team had numerous chances to get on the board before they finally did, with McMillen and Garcia both making nice crossing passes in front of the enemy goal that their teammates were just a split-second late getting to, and Garcia and Axel Rangel both taking shots that the West Iredell keeper was just able to knock away. In the 32nd minute, Luis Padilla actually headed one into the net, but the referee called offsides and waved it off.
Central returns to action on Monday night, with a road match against a tough Starmount team.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.