On Thursday, November 8th, your Manteo Redskins faced off against the Patriots of Franklin Academy in the third round of state playoffs. Manteo’s confidence was unwavering going into the matchup, however, it was understood that the Patriots would be a formidable foe. Last year, Franklin Academy won the eastern division and went on to the state championship game in which they lost to Bishop McGuiness. Franklin Academy is an elite program that consistently produces year after year.
The stage was set for an epic third round showdown and neither team would disappoint its fans. Heavy rains that moved off the coast the night before the game left the Manteo field slippery in certain spots and gust of wind up to twenty miles per hour made conditions less than ideal. Despite the conditions, both teams were eager to play and understood it was the same for both sides.
The game kicked off and Manteo took early control of possession while the visiting opponents looked to settle in and find their shape. Early on, Manteo looked to overload the right flank and pump balls into the box. The first few attempts were thwarted by the Patriots but the Redskins would continue the tactic as they felt they had found a weakness in the Patriot defense while scouting them play against Hatteras in the previous round.
The tactic would pay off just ten minutes into the game. It began with Manteo’s center back, Jose Velasco, winning a ball at midfield and playing a diagonal to Manteo’s right winger. Carter Calvio pinched in off the right flank to receive the ball from Velasco. As Calvio received the ball and drew the attention of the Patriot left back, Manteo’s center attacking midfielder made a diagonal run out wide. Calvio played Erik Hernandez out into space and behind the backline. Herandez took a touch down towards the end line and then whipped a beautiful cross to the far post. Striker, Andrew Hayman went up to the head the ball but just missed it, leaving the keeper in the lurch. The ball sailed past Franklin defenders and their keeper and found the foot of Noah Goetsch off the back post. Goetsch went for the volley, getting just enough contact on the ball to send it bouncing back across the goal. Hayman attempted to connect on the ball as it crossed his path again. While he did not connect, it confused the keeper and the defender. The defender was facing his goal as the ball bounced towards the side netting. Just a few yards off the goal line, the defender was hopefull in the keeper’s presence, but his positioning was too far off the ball, and the defender had to make an effort to clear it himself while facing the goal. A difficult task and awkward positioning allowed the ball to find the back of the net.
Manteo rejoiced in the early goal and felt a resurgence of confidence. The goal motivated both teams as the restart saw an even faster pace and higher intensity. This, unfortunately, is where the referee’s whistles began to kill the game. Whistle after whistle began to blow. A few foul calls were warranted but most were unexplainable. The highly skilled players on both sides know how to play soccer with their hips and shoulders, which are legal ways of obtaining position and the ball, however, the legal challenges were called over and over.
The game began to become a myriad of free kicks. The beautiful game became marred by the whistle and lack of possession play.
Throughout the remaining time of the first half, both teams would take turns having control of the game for brief five to seven minute periods. Manteo’s attack earned three more lethal opportunities on goal but failed to convert. Manteo’s defense in the first half remained diligent and stifling, holding the Patriot attack scoreless at halftime.
Any attacks up the middle were snuffed out through the strong triangle play of Sam Diaz, Jose Velasco, and Bryson Casey. On the outsides, Yeifer Perez and William Pendleton held strong on their own, allowing nothing by them.
Manteo would lead 1-0 at halftime.
Four minutes into the second half, Manteo made a costly mistake on a goal-kick. The Redskins opted to play the goal-kick short out to Velasco who was positioned out wide of the 18-yard box. The rest of the Redskins were not yet ready for the designed kick, and Velasco did not have his three options showing for the ball. He had to force it up the sideline, in which it was turned over and passed quickly into the middle. A Franklin Academy midfielder opted to strike the pass one time from 30 yards out. The shot was placed high but it dipped quickly amidst the strong wind. Keeper, Trent Jones Jr., elevated to punch it over the crossbar but just narrowly mistimed it. The ball dropped in, hit the bottom of the crossbar, went straight down, and spun over the line for a game tieing goal.
Play continued on as much of the first half did with constant, disruptive, and unnecessary whistles. Manteo continued to overload the flanks and pump balls in when given a chance as the strategy proved to be useful in the first half.
It was proven to be effective again, mid-way through the second half, when Hernandez again found himself on the ball down the right wing after making an overlapping run into space. He served the ball to the top of the six-yard box for the striker, Joe Zafra. Zafra went up for the ball shoulder to shoulder with the defender and won the challenge, but the ball redirected up and backward off his head. The ball was bouncing its way outside of the box for a Franklin defender to collect and clear when Pendleton came sprinting up the pitch for the ball. Pendleton’s reckless abandonment in regards to winning the ball allowed him to do just that as the Franklin defender turned his back to the ball at the last second. Pendleton looked to fire off a shot as the ball bounced awkwardly. The shot spun off his shin and back to the middle of the six-yard box. Zafra was still actively engaged inside the box, beat his defender to the ball and cut back a left-footed shot that skipped its way into the far post side netting. The players, the coaches, and the fans all erupted in jubilation as the goal gave Manteo a 2-1 lead.
Minutes later, Franklin was awarded a penalty kick as Diaz made an ill-timed tackle inside the 18-yard box. Trent Jones Jr stared down the opponent on the ball before the kick. Upon the penalty shot, Jones Jr made an explosive dive off his line, fully extended to his left to save the ball from going in the goal. The ball bounced back out and the same shooter got another chance at the ball as the rest of both teams raced into the box behind him. Jones Jr. again made another save that sent the ball back out into the box. Another Franklin attacker got his foot on the ball for a third shot and Jones Jr. swallowed this one up, negating anymore rebound shots. Three saves in less than four seconds had the Manteo squad fired up.
Manteo tightened up defensively was holding strong to their 2-1 lead. The Redskin defenders were attacking every single ball in the air sent in from the seemingly unending plethora of free kicks taken by Franklin Academy.
With seven minutes left in the game, Franklin made a long throw-in that placed the ball just inside the top of the 18-yard box. Casey, Velasco, and a Patriot attacker all went up for the ball in the air. Velasco won the ball but headed it straight down to the ground. The ball bounced up behind Casey as he was landing from his elevated challenge. Casey’s hands had come down to his waist and the ball played his hand along his side. The ref blew his whistle quickly and pointed to the spot. Even the Franklin players were surprised by the hand-ball call.
The Manteo side prayed for more magic from Jones Jr. A different player opted to take this penalty kick for Franklin. He made the most of his strike and buried it. The game was now tied at 2-2 with seven minutes left.
It was a crushing blow to the Redskins to have a goal gifted to the Patriots so late in the game. They did not hang their heads, yet continued to battle for a third goal. Yeifer Perez turned a midfielder over and unleashed a 35-yard strike that had the crowd gasping in anticipation. The blistering shot had to be punched over the crossbar as the keeper dove back to save it from winning the game.
Regulation play ended with the 2-2 scoreline. The teams would enter two ten minute overtime periods.
Within the first two minutes of the first overtime period, Franklin scored their third goal. On a long throw-in, Velasco again won the ball but it was diverted right into the path of a Franklin attacker making an inside run. He quickly played their striker through the backline, and the striker buried it the first time.
While conceding an early goal was certainly not what Manteo wanted to do, it did leave them with 18 minutes of soccer left to be played. In the remaining eight minutes of the first overtime period, Manteo earned a few chances towards goal but a defensive minded Patriot squad held strong.
The first overtime period ended and Manteo made drastic changes for the second ten minute period. Jose Velasco was moved from center back to supporting striker. Casey was subbed out and freshman, Irving Chavarria came on. Manteo went to three at the back to allow more attacking players forward.
A few minutes into the second overtime period, Manteo’s holding midfielder went out with severe cramps. Diaz had covered an exorbitant amount of ground throughout the fixture and it had taken its toll on him. Freshman, Justin Ortega, was called to fill his place.
With four minutes left, Hernandez made a long throw into the box from the right flank. Landon Taylor went up and won the ball against his defender. Taylor knocked it down and back for Ortega. With the ball bouncing towards him, Ortega opted to shoot it out of mid-air. As he did, he was taken down by a Franklin defender and awarded a penalty kick.
Landon Taylor stood over the penalty kick for Manteo. With confidence and a bit of cheekiness, Taylor drove the ball up the middle as the keeper dove out of the way on his guess attempt. The stadium noise reached unprecedented auditory levels as the home side rejoiced in the deliverance of their third and game tieing goal.
Manteo made formational changes to revert to their original line-up, minus Diaz.
The second, ten minute overtime period came to an end with the game tied at 3-3. It would go into two, five minutes, golden goal periods (meaning any goal scored immediately ends the game).
Both teams earned several attempts at goal, but neither could deliver the coveted golden-goal. The game would be decided by a penalty shootout.
Each team can select any five players to take a penalty kick. The team that makes the most by the end of five wins. In the event the teams are still tied at the end of five kicks, it goes to one and one until one team scores and the other does not.
Manteo’s order of kickers for the first five was Hernandez, Taylor, Velasco, Calvio, and Perez. They all knocked them in for goals. Unfortunately, Franklin Academy’s first five scored all five of their attempts as well. Jones Jr. was millimeters away from saying the fourth kick taken by Franklin, but it slipped past him. Franklin’s sixth kicker made his penalty kick and Manteo’s sixth kicker placed his just wide of the right post.
Franklin rushed in to celebrate the victory. Some Manteo players fell to the floor while others ran to console the sixth kicker.
The previously thunderous Manteo crowd fell utterly silent in disbelief.
Through the entirety of the match, there were 45 fouls called. Twenty-four against Manteo, and twenty-one against Franklin Academy. In any game, at any level, 45 whistles for fouls is an almost unthinkable number. For those watching the game and for those understanding how the game is played with the hips and the shoulder, that number is sickening. Two great possession teams were robbed of playing their style of play they both train year-round for. The kids on both sides deserve better.
Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “It’s is devastating to go out in that fashion but I could not be prouder of all of our kids. They played with heart and kept their composure throughout the entire game. It is one of those games I will look back on for years to come and think, “What if?”. However, we had a season worthy of remembrance as well. We earned the number one seed in the east and for good reason. We can play with and beat absolutely any team in the state on any given night. We were undefeated conference champs and earned an overall record of 18-2. These kids all bought into our philosophy and system. They all trained hard year-round. We set two goals last spring; to earn the number one seed in the east (to have home-field advantage in playoffs) and to win a state championship. We accomplished one of the incredibly difficult goals. While we fell short of the other, what we did accomplish was instilling the belief not just in ourselves but in our entire community that we are an elite program and that we can and will win a state title. I’d like to thank all our players, my assistant coaches, Michael Goetsch, and John Eric Cleaver, our parents and our fans for their efforts and support this season. When the dust settles in a week, we will get back to work, training for next season.”