On Saturday, November 4th, the Woods Charter Wolves of Chapel Hill traveled out to Manteo to compete against the Redskins in a second-round state playoff game. Manteo received a first-round bye and had the whole week to prepare for their second round match-up. Woods Charter made easy work of their first-round opponent, North Duplin. The stage was set for an epic showdown, as both teams look similar on paper, giving up limited goals, and scoring in large numbers.
The game kicked off at a feverous pace, well above that of a normal regular season game. For the first two minutes of the game, Manteo controlled the ball and kept it in their offensive third. Manteo built up an attack on the right and played Edwin Perez into the box for a 50/50 ball with the keeper, of which the keeper won, but collided with Perez, sending him to the ground writhing in pain, holding his knee. It is always a scary sight to see any player of either team hold their knee, however, luckily for Perez, it was a collision that bruised the knee and no ligaments were damaged. Unfortunately for Manteo, Perez would need to sit the rest of the half and Manteo was already missing their season-long starting winger, J Zafra. Freshman Carter Calvio and Yeifer Perez would step up in the rotation to fill the void for Perez. Edwin Perez would return for the second half.
Manteo would regroup after the injury as well as you possibly can by scoring the first and only goal of the game. It began with Eric Hernandez winning the ball in the center midfield and playing it out wide to Noah Goetsch. A defender would meet Goetsch on the run for the challenge, and the ball popped loose. Hernandez, the forever ball hawk, was right there to pounce on it, win it back from another Wolves defender and played striker Randall Klotz into the corner of the 18-yard box. Klotz was met with a strong, full speed shoulder to shoulder challenge by Woods’ center back, but the physical Klotz stayed strong through the challenge and drove the ball to the end line. Upon reaching the end line in the corner of the box, Klotz played the ball across the goal with his left foot, into the six-yard box. The ball sailed past a defender and the keeper and seemed destined to find the foot of either Manteo’s Yeifer Perez, or Landon Taylor. Perez slipped on his attack to the ball and got minimal contact on the ball, as well as the Wolves defender on the far post. The ball popped up and back amidst a sea of bodies in the box. Hernandez came streaking across the box and struck the ball clean on the volley driving a bullet of a shot past the keeper, ripping the back of the net. It was a clinical finish, and Manteo found themselves up 1-0 in the first five minutes.
Rolling with the momentum of the early goal, Manteo would control the run of play for the next five minutes. Hernandez would receive another shot on target after Klotz received the ball amid the penalty marker while posted up and dropped it to Hernandez. Hernandez struck it hard, but it was too near the keeper and he made the save by popping it up to himself to catch.
Fifteen minutes into the first half, Manteo seemed to hit a wall, as the pace they had been playing at was unsustainable. The Wolves began to take control of the run of play and were creating chances for themselves in their offensive third.
Woods Charter had several fast, highly skilled players on the ball, and it took Manteo defenders a while to recognize they needed to get into their bodies earlier on the challenge in order to better negate their shifting moves on the ball. Sam Diaz of Manteo showed everyone the proper way to make a physical tackle with two consecutive clinical tackles that sparked a new physical defense for Manteo.
Woods Charter’s first great look on goal against Manteo came midway through the first half as a poor clearance out of the Manteo box allowed a Wolves player to pump the ball right back into the 18-yard box. The ball was flicked up in the air and bounced around the box for what seemed like an eternity as both sides tried to get a clean foot on it. Woods Charter’s center midfielder, number 11, would finally put his boot on the ball atop the six-yard box, only to have Manteo’s Jose Velasco block it with his body. The ball bounced right back to number 11 and he would have another crack. This time, it was keeper Trent Jones Jr. with a beautiful kick save out wide to be sent out by Goetsch.
Manteo found their second wind with ten minutes remaining in the first half and took back control of the run of play. The Redskins produced several good scoring opportunities on goal in the last ten minutes, but perhaps, none better than that of Landon Taylor’s attempt on goal. Yeifer Perez somehow managed to muscle the ball through three Wolves defenders, finding Taylor all alone on the right side of the 18-yard box. Taylor let it run and then struck it near post but the keeper made a brilliant save with the body.
Manteo continued the second half as they had ended the first half, controlling the game and threatening early. Manteo was seemingly in for their second goal just minutes into the second half as Hernandez had played a wonderful through ball past the backline of Woods Charter to find Klotz on the run. Klotz was in front of all defenders, approaching the outside of the box and as a Wolves defender pushed, and clipped him from behind with no play on the ball. Klotz tried to stay up, but he was unable to, and the free kick was awarded. The last defender deliberate foul seemingly warranted a mandatory minimum of a yellow card for the Wolves’ center back, but the referee kept all his cards in his pocket to the chagrin of the Manteo side. The referee would continue this habit of not handing out warranted cards but instead opted for the unseen approach of making the transgressing player apologize and shake hands with the victim of the foul. Klotz’ free kick would narrowly miss the upper-ninety mark.
The run of play would even out for most of the second with both teams playing full speed, and giving it everything they had. Manteo’s defense stepped up in a huge way, making timely challenges on the ground, and elevating above the others to win 50/50 balls in the air. The Redskins would focus intently on Woods Charter’s numbers 11 and 8, as they were clearly the playmakers on the field for the Wolves. Early physical challenges throughout the night helped to nullify their ability on the pitch.
Midway through the second half, Manteo would again create a great chance on goal only to have it denied by a top-drawer kick save by the Wolves’ keeper. Hernandez had made an overlapping run down the left flank to receive the ball wide, and he drove the end line, turned the corner, and cut it back to Klotz awaiting in the box. Klotz got his left foot on it, playing it on to the far post, but the keeper came up huge for Woods Charter.
Trent Jones Jr. of Manteo was not to be outdone by the Wolves keeper though, as he too stood on his head throughout the evening. Jones Jr. came up big every single time he was called upon, making punches, grabbing balls out of the air in heavy traffic, and making a few kick saves of his own.
With twelve minutes left in the game, Hernandez looked to take over and put it out of reach for the Wolves. Hernandez made a blistering 70 yard run straight up the center of the pitch, dribbling past four defenders on his way into the box. As Hernandez was pushed out to the corner of the six-yard box with the body of the center back, he struck it near post, only to have the keeper make another great save.
In the final ten minutes, Woods Charter pushed their numbers forward in an attempt to get the equalizer. The final ten minutes saw numerous corner kicks and deep offensive third throw-ins for Woods Charter. Manteo’s defense denied all attempts in prolific fashion.
Upon the final whistle, the Manteo side could brief a heavy sigh of relief and rejoice in the 1-0 victory as the jubilant student section rushed the field to celebrate with the team.
Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “This was a great win for our program tonight over a highly talented private Chapel Hill team. That is the best 80 minutes of soccer we have played all year. Our boys played inspired and displayed so much heart and desire to win. I could not be more proud of their effort tonight. Our defense stepped up and won this game for us. I have been hard on my defense all year long, especially when they gave up sloppy goals, but this is why. I know what they are capable of doing, and our team needs their full potential of play going forward to keep winning. I have never had such a hard time deciding on “player of the game” because this truly was a complete team win for us.”