The final conference game of the season took place on October the 25th in Edenton. The Manteo Redskins had already cemented a conference title, and Edenton had wrapped up second place in the conference, but the stakes were still high as both teams were playing for playoff rankings. Manteo first defeated Edenton by a score of 6-2, and then later by a score of 4-2 in a hard-fought game. The Aces’ speed up top can be troublesome for any defensive backline and Manteo would look to combat their speed by sitting a bit deeper, allowing less space for their strikers to run into.
The temperature fell quickly with the setting sun, and the brisk Autumn air was a clear reminder that playoffs were just around the corner. Upon kickoff, Edenton was fired up from minute one, flying about the pitch, challenging every ball with a fearless disregard for physical contact. Manteo took their time to warm up and get going. They looked to play their possession game but shied away from early challenges. It took an early goal to really get Manteo mentally into the game.
Less than ten minutes into the first half, Eric Hernandez collected a ball on the left side of midfield with a retreating backline for Edenton. Hernandez was one on one with his defender and had him back peddling towards goal. As the ball rolled forward under the control of Hernandez, he stepped right, then left, then right, and finally made a slight touch on the ball back to the left leaving his defender in his wake. Approaching the corner of the 18-yard box, Hernandez struck the ball with the outside of his right foot, sending the ball on the ground towards the far post. He caught the keeper out of position, cutting off too much of the near post, and the keeper attempted to chase the ball down as it rolled into the far corner of the goal. The Edenton defense was stunned, and Manteo was fired up.
Upon the following kickoff, Manteo quickly won the ball back on a step-up challenge by center back, Bryson Casey. Casey won the ball in midfield and passed it wide to Randall Klotz. Klotz let it run wide a bit, before positioning around the ball to cut it back inside to Casey who had continued his run. Klotz’s ball found Casey right through the gut, unattested. Casey took a touch towards goal and then a crack on goal. It was struck low and well, but the ball blasted inches past the far post. The goal would have had Edenton reeling, but they would regroup and fight on.
Manteo would make it 2-0 soon enough though. Along the right flank, both teams were fighting for possession in Edenton’s defensive third. The ball popped out nicely to Klotz who collected it and turned inside towards goal. Klotz placed it by the first challenging defender, and then cut it back as the second defender came sliding towards him. Klotz then picked his head up, eying the goal, seeing the goalie again covering the near post. Klotz used his left foot to place it easily into the far post side netting.
The 2-0 lead over Edenton only made them play harder and faster. Edenton was winning most 50/50 challenges and it would pay off for them. Upon winning one deep in the midfield, an Edenton midfielder would play one of their two strikers through on ball down the right wing. The Aces’ striker flew down the wing, dribbling the ball wide, seemingly with one thing in mind, to cross the ball into the box. The run drew Manteo’s left back, center defensive midfielder, and one of their center backs out wide, leaving only Manteo’s other center back and right back in the box to defend the cross. The cross came low and hard, just atop the six-yard box. Manteo’s Casey was sprinting back in position and attempted to stop and flick the ball out, but he did not get enough of the ball. The ball fell nicely for the Edenton striker who had made a well-timed run into the center of the box, and he placed it low, just under the outstretched arm of Manteo keeper, Trent Jones Jr.
Manteo was stunned as it was Edenton’s first real attempt on goal of the game. The Redskins would regroup and look to put a little distance on the scoreboard before the half.
Manteo’s third goal was all Klotz. He pressured a midfielder with the ball at his feet in the middle of the field. Klotz’s challenge won the ball, and he took it to goal with only the center back to beat. The center back got enough of the ball to delay and push Klotz’s run wide, allowing other defenders to get back. Therefore, Klotz cut it back and played it back inside to Hernandez. Hernandez quickly found Landon Taylor on the square pass, and Taylor found Noah Goetsch out wide on the left wing. Goetsch dribbled the ball past two defenders straight into the 18-yard box before playing it back to Klotz who had posted his defender up near the penalty marker. Klotz let the ball run across him to the right, drawing the defender that way, and then quickly cut it straight back to the left giving himself enough space for the shot. Klotz struck the ball with his left foot, sending it curling high just over the diving keeper of Edenton. It was a brilliant strike that gave Manteo some much-needed breathing room.
Manteo entered the half up by a score of 3-1, and the game would end in that result as well. The second half would be a more even run of play. Manteo would have numerous solid shot attempts on goal and so would Edenton. Manteo’s keeper, Jones Jr., came up huge, particularly late in the second half. Manteo gave up a copious amount of free-kicks in a short amount of time near the end of the second half. Edenton elected to pump the long ball directly into the 18-yard box on all of the free-kicks. Manteo’s lack of aerial challenges allowed Edenton to flick some of the balls onto goal, while others bounced dangerously over the backline towards goal. Jones Jr. was there to collect all of them though, allowing Manteo to maintain their comfortable two-goal lead.
After the game, Coach Cleaver stated, “It feels great to end conference play undefeated, especially by defeating our toughest conference opponent. Edenton is a fast and skilled team that fearlessly flys about the pitch, and it was no easy feat to defeat them three times. I am proud of our team for all their hard work so far this season. We will look to finish up the regular season tomorrow night against Northeastern, and get ready for the playoffs. I am excited about the opportunity we have to make a lot of noise in the playoffs this year as I think we are capable of beating anyone we may face. We just need to remain focused and play 80 minutes of our best soccer.”
The Redskins ended conference play with a record of 12-0, making them your Albermarle Athletic Conference champions. They will receive a bye for the first round of playoffs, and host a second-round game on Saturday, November 4th at 6pm.