SALISBURY — Surry Central went to four overtime periods before finally succumbing to defending champion Salisbury over the weekend.
In the second round of the state 2A soccer playoffs, two excellent teams faced off in a match that would have been worthy of the finals.
The normally loquacious Blake Roth said he was stunned silent by the 4-3 overtime match.
“I am still kind of speechless,” the head coach said. “It was one of the most epic games I’ve ever coached.”
He ranked this one right up at the top with the 2009 game with Shelby that lasted until penalty kicks to decide a winner.
Both teams went into the match with 17-2-2 records, but because the Eagles lost both regular games with West Stokes, Central went on the road for this match Saturday.
Not only is Salisbury the defending 2A champs, noted Roth, “they did knock us off in the Elite Eight last year.” Since they didn’t lose that many players, Roth had an idea what the Hornets would be like.
“Their style is so different than ours,” he said.
When a student asked him in the hallway at Central how the game went, Roth said he answered, “It was 6-1 for them and 5-6 for us.”
When the student looked puzzled, Roth explained that this was the height advantage that Salisbury had with their starters averaging 6-foot-1 to the Eagles’ 5-foot-6.
Because of their length, the Hornets like to run a lot of set plays, especially off corner kicks, the coach described. They can loft the ball high and then outjump shorter opponents for headers.
During pregame warmups, Salisbury practiced corner kicks for 20 minutes straight.
Still, Roth said, “We had a game plan, and we executed it well.”
“Frankly, they dominated us last year, and we didn’t like that,” he said. “It was a battle from the first second until the golden goal went in.” The match lasted 107 minutes.
“It was the best game we have played all year in terms of sheer tenacity,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was just shy of being enough.
“We rely on our great touch, our passing and our agility and speed,” the coach explained. “We were definitely the faster, more agile team. I hate to say it because we lost, but I felt like we were the most talented team.”
Just 49 seconds into the game, leading scorer Jose Avalos put the ball down the right side and then slid it over to a teammate.
Francisco Rangel and a defender both kicked at the ball at the same time. The squirted out between their two feet and into the goal for a 1-0 lead.
The Eagles were still holding that lead about nine minutes later when Avalos went to the ground. That was the first of five trips Roth would make out onto the field for injuries.
“Jose Avalos, I can’t say enough about him,” said the coach. “He’s been an outstanding player for us” despite battling a hamstring injury much of the season.
He tweaked that hamstring again and was in a lot of pain. Still, the sophomore wanted to be back on the field, so the coaches taped his leg up and let him give it a try.
“He played in 60 percent of the game at maybe 60 percent of his ability,” said Roth. “Salisbury didn’t see everything he had to bring to the table. And props to him for getting out there even though a hamstring injury is one of the most debilitating injuries you can have.”
Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Lopez both missed about 15 minutes of action with leg cramps. Uriel Secundino got kicked in the fracas of a corner kick and didn’t play in any of the four overtimes.
Ranferi Ramirez went down five minutes into the second half. He told Roth that someone had kicked him in the ankle.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t know if I can play much longer.’” Yet Roth said the senior played all 107 minutes.
He knew it could have been his last game and wanted to go as long as he was able, he said.
In the 17th minute, Salisbury tied the game 1-1 off the first of three successful corner kicks.
Roth said he knew that was the Hornets’ best chance of scoring, so on every corner kick he would bring the entire team down to defend the goal, even the forwards. He said he didn’t do that with anyone else all season.
Still, the ball was lofted high in the air, and Bobby Cardelle outjumped his players to knock it into the net.
Out of their four goals, the Hornets scored goals one, two and four off corner kicks, Roth said.
About the time Ramirez suffered his ankle bruise, teammate Gusto Cristobal received the ball down the left side, pushed the ball into the box and slid it past keeper.
The 2-1 lead lasted until there was just eight minutes left. Emmy Turcios, the MVP of last year’s state final game, finished off the corner kick.
In the first overtime, Salisbury took the lead off a bizarre ricochet by Cardelle.
The ball was wide left, but hit the post. The ball caromed all the way across the front of the goal, then hit the right post, too, and rolled into the net.
With a minute left in the 10-minute overtime, Luis Flores, normally a defender, received a pass from Avalos and tied the score at 3-all.
The game was scoreless through the second and third overtime periods. If the score is still tied after four periods, then the teams each get five penalty kicks to decide the winner.
Roth said he was writing down who he wanted to take the five kicks when the last goal was scored with just three minutes to go.
Off a corner kick, the ball was bouncing around like pinball. A Hornet made a low, hard kick from just outside the 18-yard box that the keeper couldn’t even see because of all the congestion in his way.
“Surry Central versus Salisbury was a fourth-round game unfortunately being played in the second round,” he said.
For the past three seasons, the Eagles have been knocked out of the playoffs by the eventual state champion. After seeing Salisbury, Roth said he believes that trend will hold true again.
Reach Jeff Linville at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1920.