On the cold, crisp evening of Thursday, November 11th, the Pheonix of Raleigh Charter traveled to Roanoke Island to take on the Manteo Redskins in an epic fourth-round showdown. Raleigh Charter had previously upset the number two seed, Granville Central, while the Redskins held off a strong Voyager Academy team in the third round of state playoffs. It was only three years ago the two teams faced off in the 4th round as well, of which Raleigh Charter won in heartbreaking fashion. Tales of the previous encounter circulated, engendering the Manteo side with a taste for revenge and a hunger for victory. The pre-match consensus seemed to be that it would be a battle to the very end. The game was just that, and so much more.
As the game kicked off, Raleigh Charter took early control of the ball, forcing the strong Manteo defense to go to work early and often. Despite Raleigh Charter possessing much more of the ball in the first ten minutes of the game in the midfield and their offensive third, they failed to produce any real perilous attempts on goal. The Manteo defense defended aggressively and in numbers.
While the Raleigh Charter side seemed solid all over the pitch, it was obvious in the first two minutes that #6 and #9 would be difficult to deal with. #9 was shifty on the ball and was constantly looking to create attacks for others by playing dangerous balls into the final third. #6 displayed a high technical ability on the ball, a high IQ as he always knew exactly where to play the ball before he even received it, and a lightning-quick turn on the ball that would later prove lethal against the Manteo side.
Thirteen minutes into the game, Manteo would strike first with the dynamic combination of Eric Hernandez and Randall Klotz. On a Raleigh Charter throw-in near midfield, the Phoenix #9 settled the ball and dropped it back to combo within their midfield triangle. The ball was one touched back to him under pressure, and he one-touched it inside to an unsuspecting midfielder who mishandled the trap, popping the ball up and back towards Klotz and his mark. Klotz got a touch on the ball first, playing it out to an already bursting Hernandez who seemed to anticipate it all. Hernandez took a strong touch towards goal with a defender chasing behind. Klotz made his run straight to the box as Hernandez drew the ball a bit wide due to the closing defender. Approaching the 18-yard box, Hernandez picked his head up, eyed Klotz’s run and played a ground pass out in front of Klotz right onto the penalty marker. Klotz took one touch on the run, slicing the ball on the ground to the far post side netting for Manteo’s first goal of the game. The home crowd erupted, students stomped, screamed and waved the Manteo flag with pride.
An early lead is always a great thing and Manteo has done just that on their 18 game win streak, but the Raleigh Charter side would prove to be quite the resilient bunch. They would answer ten minutes later with a goal of their own. Upon receiving a throw-in deep in their offensive third, a Pheonix attacker held the ball out of bounds looking for someone to throw it to. The Raleigh Charter side stagnated, and the thrower held the ball for what seemed an eternity, so much so the referee seemingly approached to coax him to throw it. The Manteo side fell dormant as well just as he threw the ball into the edge of the six-yard box, just off the end line. #6 of Raleigh Charter shielded the Manteo defender and applied his lightning quick turn on the ball to face the goal. The quick spin left him face to face with the keeper just yards from the goal line and he slid the ball under the keeper’s legs.
The equalizer seemingly caused both sides to stare each other down before the kickoff, saying “Game on”. The game began to open up and both sides were racking up solid attacks that were just missing on the finality of it all. Manteo received a couple successive corner kicks off building attacks. While the first proved dangerous as the ball fell inside the box amidst a sea of bodies, the Phoenix defense was able to clear the danger. On the following corner kick, Hernandez decided to take care of things himself. Hernandez lined up to take the corner on the left side. He struck it with his right foot, sending it up, bending it back in towards goal. The Phoenix goalie and the defenders all miscalculated the bend on the ball, and it sailed past them all and into the far post, upper ninety for Manteo’s second goal. Both sides were shocked in the first instant, however, Manteo’s shock resided much more quickly as they surrounded Hernandez to celebrate the timely strike.
Riding the momentum of their second goal, Manteo looked to capitalize and put away the third goal in the first half. Klotz was able to turn a Phoenix defender over in the midfield and again find a streaking Hernandez through the middle. Drawing several defenders early on the counter, Hernandez played Edwin Perez with a perfect pass out wide as he found himself unmarked due to the attention Hernandez drew on the ball. Perez raced to the ball as the keeper did the same, yet it was a race Perez was destined to win. He looked to strike it one time, yet his strike on the ball was unlucky as it sailed wide past the goal as the keeper dove out in the wrong direction.
Manteo continued to defend well in numbers while still seizing their attacking opportunities. Manteo had their chances to increase their lead but Raleigh Charter would be the one to finish the half strong with a second equalizing goal. After neutralizing a solid initial attack by the Phoenix side, Manteo center back, Jose Velasco, headed the ball out of the six-yard box. Left back, William Pendleton, looked to clear the resulting header as opposed to letting it go out for a corner kick. The clearance was mishit and did not get out of the box. A Phoenix attacker, collected, turned, and struck it on the half-volley under pressure. It was a clinical strike, placing it into the far-post side netting. A demoralizing goal for the Manteo side that had seemingly taken control of the game.
Manteo would enter half-time tied at two goals apiece.
The second half was an equal battle amongst both teams while the sides alternated five to ten-minute spans of dominating the run of play. Manteo produced numerous scoring opportunities, mostly on counter attacks. Despite numerous attempts on goal for both sides, the defenses held strong and it was a scoreless second half, sending the game into overtime.
The first overtime consists of two ten minute periods that must be played out, despite the scoreline.
Manteo jumped out early in the first two minutes of the first ten minute period. Upon receiving a throw-in deep in their offensive third, Manteo’s Landon Taylor found the ball at his feet amidst three Pheonix defenders. Taylor worked to control the ball but ended up popping it up in the air upon contests from encroaching defenders. The ball popped up and fell inside the 18-yard box to the one player Manteo would request it to fall too if they could. Hernandez eyed the ball out of the air and struck it first time on the volley. It was certainly not a net-ripping cracker of a volley, but it was timely, accurate and found its way into the far post side netting. Manteo found themselves up for the third time this game. The Manteo fans again erupted in jubilation. The student section had been standing the entire game, cheering and chanting, waiting to storm the field to celebrate. They would need to wait a bit longer, and unfortunately wait until next year.
Manteo held strong the first ten minute overtime period and lead 3-2.
In the middle of the second ten minute overtime period, Manteo was inches away from putting the game away with another goal. A poor clearing header by a Phoenix defender sent the ball back to the middle offensive third for Manteo and right to the feet of Perez. Perez played Hernandez on the centric run but the center back met the ball just as Hernadez got to it. The ball popped up and back to the head of Klotz. Klotz headed the ball on towards goal as the keeper rushed out and plowed into Klotz. It was a high, looping header, yet it was dropping right into the goal. However, two Phoenix defenders crashed the goal and flew through the air, both swinging a foot up at the ball to clear it out. The ball was no more than three inches from crossing the entire goal line, as one of the defenders got just enough on the ball to clear it back a bit before crashing into the back of the net. For a second, all was not lost for Manteo as the ball sailed right over to both Hernandez and Perez. It seemed just a simple touch from three yards out into the empty net would cement the victory, yet the ball had a vicious spin on it. It hit the ground, spinning past Hernandez, and Perez came crashing in on it. Perez lept towards the ball, getting part of his midsection on the ball, sending it towards goal, but the iron was unkind. The ball bounced out off the upright, allowing a defender to clear it. A collective groan resounded throughout the home fans. The game was still far from over.
With just two minutes left in the second ten minute overtime, Raleigh Charter received a throw-in deep in their offensive third. They sent a long throw into the crowded box. A Phoenix attacker elevated above the rest and flicked the ball back towards goal. It was seemingly a flick-on for another attacker to connect with, yet it somehow found its way all the way across the Manteo goal, and into the back of the net. It was a devastating third equalizer.
After ending the second ten minute overtime period tied at 3-3, the game would enter into the ‘golden goal’ five minute overtime. If a team scores in one of the two five minute ‘golden goal’ overtime periods, it is an instant game-winning goal.
The first five minutes were feverous, ripe with attempts on goal and defensive stands, none more impressive than the stand Manteo made in the final minute of the first five minute period. With the clock winding down, Raleigh Charter’s #6 found himself with the ball in space atop the corner of the 18-yard box. He struck it well towards the far post. Keeper Trent Jones Jr. exploded off the ground in an effort to get a touch on the shot as it sailed just over his extended arm, and hit the post near the upper-ninety. The ball bounced out and was cleared by Manteo, but it was shortly thereafter pumped back in down the left wing. A looping cross was sent to the far post, collected by the Phoenix and dropped back to #9, who took a shot on goal. Jones Jr. made a diving save as defender, Sam Diaz also dove in to deflect the ball out. Another Phoenix attacker turned on the bouncing ball amidst the box and struck it on goal towards the far post side netting. Again, Jones Jr. made an extended diving save, getting a strong hand on the ball while flipping in the air. The ball bounced back out only a few yards as Jones Jr. was back on his feet in a split second. The ball was again shot from point-blank distance, and Jones Jr. again made a third diving save alongside defender William Pendleton who stood along the goal line in an effort to help defend the goal. The ball was finally cleared out and the clock hit zero seconds to end the first five minute overtime period.
The game would enter the final five minute overtime period, tied at three goals apiece. If no goal was to be scored the game would enter penalty kicks.
With two minutes remaining in the game, Raleigh Charter’s #9 found himself some space between the Manteo center back, and right back. He received the ball near the edge of the 18-yard box, spun and fired a beautiful shot into the far post side netting. The goal ended the game in a prolific fashion much to the heartbroken dismay of the home side.
The Manteo players feel to the ground in shock. You could see their tears pouring down, and their hearts bleeding-out. They gave every ounce of energy they had and left it all on the field.
The dejected Manteo team shook hands and gathered in the corner one last time. The entire student body and supporting community fans gathered around as well to show their unyielding support. Everyone was silent as Coach Cleaver addressed his team, professing his admiration for the effort and passion displayed throughout the match.
Coach Cleaver stated after the game, ” It is absolutely devastating to end our season in that manner. It hurts so much because we know how close we were to accomplish our goal of a state championship and we know we can play with any 1A team in the state on any given night. Our boys played their hearts out and I could not have asked for one more thing of them as they gave it all. I speak for our players and fans as well when I say that we have nothing but respect for Coach Grosso, and the Raleigh Charter side, as they too, showed admirable resiliency and heart, to pull out that come back. While we did not accomplish our top goal this year, we did accomplish many great things as we went undefeated in conference play and reeled off 18 straight victories. I am beyond pleased with our overall season, effort and growth this season. These young men were a pleasure to coach and they will forever be apart of the Manteo Soccer family.”