First Round Excitement

On Monday, the first day of November, your Manteo Redskins hosted the North Lenoir Eagles in the first round of the North Carolina state playoffs. It has been over twenty years since the Redskins have competed in the class 2A playoffs, making the competition unfamiliar and fearce.

It was a beautiful fall evening for a game. Thick, colored and puffy clouds lined the sky while a gentle, cool breeze laced the remaining sunlight. Both teams appeared eager and ready for a spirited contest.

The game got underway with nerves seemingly on both sides of the ball. The ball often pinged around the midfield, back and forth between the two teams, with few passes being connected cleanly to start. Manteo was trying to find their short passing game but the Eagles were doing a good job of pressing the first touch of the Redskins immediately and often displacing the ball. When the Eagles were on the ball, they seemed to have one thought in mind, and that was to send it long, over the top of the Manteo backline for their two strikers to chase down. This tactic would be employed throughout the entire game by the Eagles and the Redskins defense did a great job of positioning and winning the first and second balls.

Manteo saw a handful of looks at goal, but their most threatening opportunity did not come until twenty minutes into the game. Ivy Midgett launched a long throw into the 18-yard box. An Eagle defender headed the ball up and a second defender tried to head it out of the danger zone. Aidan Braswell got his head on the third ball, sending it across the box to Dylan Jones. Jones directed the ball with his head up and over towards the back post. The looping header seemingly had the keeper beat but he leaped backward, fully extended to get a single hand on the ball and just enough to parry the ball wide. Amyas Kenyon was there on the far post for a shot attempt on the rebound. It was a difficult angle and awkward volley. Kenyon got good contact on the ball but laced the outside of the side-netting.

It would not take another twenty minutes before the Redskins earned a quality shot on target, only one minute. After the Manteo defense handle a quick attack from the Eagles, Manteo set forth on their own counterattack in end-to-end play. Trent Hayman collected the ball in the middle of the defensive third and took off with pace on a long dribble. Hayman dribbled all the way into the attacking third. Once he drew all the attention of the defense, he laid off a through ball to Braswell on the right slot. Braswell collected the pass at full speed, took a collecting touch into the box, and then fired off a near-post shot. Braswell drilled the shot, but the keeper was well positioned and deflected the ball wide.

The Eagles continued to send long ball service out of their midfield to their two central strikers.

Twenty-six minutes into the game, Manteo dispossessed the Eagles off their throw-in along the right side of the midfield. Alex Tovar won the ball and played forward on the diagonal to Jones. Jones collected on the half-turn and dribbled across the middle of the pitch. Jones looked to play Oscar Rivera on the left flank but the pass was intercepted by the Eagles right-back. The defensive clearance was poor and fell directly to Manteo’s left-back, Irving Calderon-Chavarria. Calderon-Chavarria played back inside to Spencer James before James played a quick one-touch pass diagonally out wide to Rivera. Rivera received the pass at his feet and drew the attention of three defenders so he opted to play backwards to Calderon-Chavarria. The entire Eagle defense had now shifted over to defend the width. Calderon-Chavarria picked his head up and played along a diagonal pass on the ground as Cristian De Leon Ventura made a deep midfield run into the huge space left open in front of the 18-yard box. De Leon Ventura received the ball in the slot between their center-back and left-back. As he drew their attention, he slipped a well-weighted pass through their line to Hayman on a run into the box. Hayman took a collecting touch before smashing it home on the near post. The home side celebrated a beautiful team goal and the 1-0 lead.

Throughout the remainder of the first half, Manteo saw much more of the ball than the Eagles and was certainly completing more passes. The Eagles stuck to their long ball methodology but Manteo’s backline was finding a rhythm within their pattern of play of snuffing balls out nicely. Despite a heavy presence going forward, Manteo was unable to net another goal in the first half and took the 1-0 lead into half-time.

Both teams continued their style of play in the second half. Manteo showed a touch more patience in the build-up of their attack, knocking the ball around the midfield a bit more before looking to expose the Eagle backline. The Eagles had been doing a great job all evening of closing down the ball quickly and aggressively each time Manteo made a pass. If a Redskin, had a poor first touch, the Eagles were there to steal it.

North Lenoir’s really only dangerous attacking opportunities were coming from set-pieces. Whether it was a corner kick, long throw-in, or a free-kick, these were the only moments they were able to get the ball into Manteo’s 18-yard box.

Twelve minutes into the second half, the Eagles earned a free kick just inside their attacking half. The serviceman curled a long ball deep into the 18-yard box. Manteo goalkeeper, Cody Weaver, came out aggressively to punch the ball away. The Eagles’ striker came rushing in an attempt to win the ball. Weaver punched the ball out first just as the striker collided into the body of Weaver, knocking them both to the ground. Manteo was awarded a free-kick for the foul.

Midway through the second half, the Eagles earned a series of throw-ins on their right flank. The Redskins dealt with the first by clearing the ball back out wide of the sideline. On the second long throw-in, Manteo failed to raise up and win the ball cleanly in the air. The ball fell to a sea of bodies inside the six-yard box. Chaos ensued as both teams scrambled for the ball. An Eagles attacker swung widely at the ball, sending it towards goal from close range. The shot took a quick deflection that sent Weaver to ground in the wrong direction and the ball spun past the feet of Weaver and bounced over the goal-line to equalize the game.

With a little over twenty minutes remaining in the game and the score level, the tempo and physicality of the game increased drastically. Everyone seemed to feel the next goal scored would likely be the game-winning goal, and both teams were willing to lay their bodies on the line for the win.

As the game opened up, Manteo continued to see the better of the attacking opportunities, many coming from quick counterattacks. The Eagles continued to optimize their set peices as their best method of attacking but it was Manteo’s set piece at the end that was the difference-maker.

With just over two minutes remaining, Hayman and Braswell worked together to dispossess the Eagles along the right flank in the attacking third. Braswell ended up with the ball before quickly being fouled by the defender once of twice. The initial foul was not called by the lead official and play continued to see the defender fall on the ball as Braswell tried to free it once again. The whistle blew and the Eagles thought it was in their favor. However, the linesman with play right in front of him, walked over to converse with the lead offical and explained the occurance of the intial fouls. Manteo was awarded the free kick just inside the sidelin, five yards above the 18-yard box.

Braswell took the kick and lofted it up into the middle of the six-yard box. The ball was falling right into the hand of the keeper as Oscar Rivera came charging in. Rivera’s presecese spooked the keeper and the ball hit his hands and bounced forward. The ball bounced off Jones and into the back of the net. The Redskins raced back to their half in excitement of the game winning goal.

The final two minutes of play were uneventful for either team as the Redskins showed solid game mangagment. The final whistle blew in favor of Manteo with a 2-1 scoreline.

Coach Cleaver stated after the game, “We certainly did not play our best game tonight but playoffs is only about winning and advancing. I’ll take it however it comes. We faced a fast and physical team and a style of play we do not see that often. I felt like at times we fell into their style of play instead of controlling the tempo and playing our short passing game. It will be important to play our brand of soccer going forward. I am proud of our effort and composure in a tough contest though.”

Game Stats:

Trent Hayman: 1 goal

Dylan Jones: 1 goal

Cristian De Leon Ventura: 1 assist

Aidan Braswell: 1 assist

Team Stats:

MHSNLH
Possession %54.5%45.5%
Attacking Transitions3931
Goals21
Shots246
Crosses212
Corners42
Free Kicks717
Passes215128
Successful Passes11228
Pass Success Rate52%22%

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