Redskins Fall Short Against First Flight

On Wednesday, September 18th, the First Flight Night Hawks came across the bridge to take on the Manteo Redskins in the first of two rivalry fixtures. Both teams have been off to a slow start this year (as compared to normal) and were eager for a big win and bragging rights. While Manteo has yet to take down the Nighthawks since the school’s inception, last year’s game was a close hard-fought game, and fans and players alike expected another exciting fixture.

First Flight kicked off the game, dropping the ball back into their half. Manteo sat back in a defensive shape waiting patiently at the midline. The holding defensive shape behind the midline was a strategy that Manteo would employ throughout the entire game. They allowed the backline of the Nighthawks to pass the ball along their backline behind the midline while focusing on marking up their playmakers in the midfield and taking them out of the game.

In the first half, First Flight seemed frustrated by the tactics, struggling to find good distribution off their backline. Manteo’s outside midfielders and outside backs did a great job defending the width in isolation, allowing the central defenders and center midfielders to focus on taking away First Flights central playmakers.

First Flight dominated the ball in the first half but were never able to really test Manteo’s young sophomore keeper, Cody Weaver, with any real threatening shots. Manteo looked to make the most of their moments on the ball, looking for quick counter-attacking opportunities off-diagonal balls out of the midfield. They also seemed to prioritize winning free-kicks in the attacking half, and throw-ins in their attacking final third.

The most threating shot of the first half came off a free kick taken by center back, Yeifer Perez, from 35 yards out on the left flank. As the bodies rush into the box as the ball was sent into the box, the ball continued to curl and sail towards the far-post. The keeper scrambled on his line and elevated to punch the ball out as it sailed over his shoulder but he misjudged it slightly. The ball viciously clanked off cross-bar, bouncing high up in the air and back into the box. First Flight was able to clear the ball and reset.

Manteo went into the half with a nil-nil scoreline. They were seemingly right where they wanted to be but injuries in the first half would have a large impact on the second half.

Manteo began the game with 16 players on the roster, two of which are goalkeepers. Manteo’s left-back, Oscar Rivera, went down 15 minutes into the game with a  quad strain. Pearce Gregory was unable to dress for Manteo, serving a two-game suspension after a red card in the Hatteras game.  Therefore, Noah Goetsch had to slide back out of the midfield to the backline and Bradon Gonzalez-Martinez filled in the center midfield position. Ten minutes after Gonzalez-Martinez entered the game, he would leave with a knee injury and be unable to return. Brayan Hernandez-Ramirez would then slide into the center midfield, pairing with Carter Calvio.

The second half started much the same as the first with Manteo sitting back patiently behind the midline. Shortly into the second half, Richard Hernandez would leave the field for Manteo with a sprained ankle. Hernandez would return later after getting his ankle assessed and tapped up by the athletic trainer but for a long period, Manteo was sub-less with players in unfamiliar positions.

The dominant possession by Frist Flight began to take a toll on the shape of Manteo’s formation. They began to wear down with no fresh legs to sub in. The backline gradually sat back further and further, until they were almost camped out on the 18-yard line. The midfield line did the same, now leaving too much space in First Flight’s attacking midfield for their playmakers to receive the ball.

This became the fatal flaw in Manteo’s tactics as the Nighthawks center midfielders began to combo with each other and play off their holding striker to drop the ball back for open shots outside the box. With twenty minutes left in the game, First Flight’s Tanner Bouker curled a beautiful shot into the top left bin. Weaver had made several big saves up until that point, but there was no stopping this shot.

Five minutes later, Bouker would again tuck a shot into the bottom right side-netting after receiving a cut back ball from Gage Bernard that found Bouker awaiting it atop the box.

Facing a 2-0 deficit, Manteo began to pick up their offensive approach, pushing more bodies forward when they could but fatigue often left numbers low in transitions. Manteo did win a plethora of throw-ins in their final third in the last ten minutes. Andrew Hayman launched long throw-ins towards the penalty marker as Manteo flooded bodies in the box in an attempt to get a goal back. There were several uncomfortable moments in the box for the First Flight defenders when dealing with the long throw-ins but Manteo was unable to capitalize on them.

The game would end with a 2-0 result in favor of the Nighthawks.

Team Stats
MHS
FFHS
Possession %
36.0%
64.0%
Attacking Transitions
53
65
Goals
0
2
Shots
5
14
Crosses
1
4
Corners
1
5
Free Kicks
16
9
Passes
160
474
Successful Passes
104
407
Pass Success Rate
65%
86%

Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “I was pleased with our effort and heart on the night. We ran short on bodies, had to shuffle players around in different positions, but our kids gave it everything they had until the last second of the game. Tactically, our players executed what we asked of them for the most part. Doing so kept us in the game and we had our fair share of chances but failed to capitalize. When you face quality teams like First Flight, you better make the most of every chance you get. We need to do a better job moving off the ball when we are in possession, providing short and simple passing options for the player on the ball. Too often, we lost the ball because of poor movement and the formation becoming disconnected in transition. If we can fix those things and get our team healthy, we can take it to First Flight on Monday.”

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