DOBSON — West Stokes edged Surry Central 2-1 in soccer, essentially handing the Wildcats the automatic berth into the 2A state playoffs.
In possibly the biggest game of the season, the Golden Eagles were without leading scorer Jose Avalos, benched for disciplinary reasons.
Coach Blake Roth said he was proud of the way the rest of his squad pulled together against the Cats.
The Eagles led 1-0 for a long time and had chances to tie the score in the latter stages, he noted.
Midway through the first half, Surry Central played a corner kick high toward the goal.
Fredy Cruz headed the ball toward the goal, but the West keeper blocked it away. Gusto Cristobal headed the deflection between the keeper and another defender for a score.
That was the only goal of the first half.
Then in the second half, West Stokes scored twice on nearly identical plays.
On a corner kick, West Stokes flooded the box with players. Including Central’s defenders and the keeper, there were about 15 bodies in the 18-yard box.
“It was a free-for-all,” said Roth.
The ball came down in the middle of all that, and one of the visiting players managed to get a foot on it to tie the game 1-1.
Then in the 58th minute, another corner kick saw heavy congestion near the goal.
The ball sailed past most of the guys, and one player ran after the ball and flicked it backward with his heel. The ball ricocheted off the post and into the side netting.
“I’d love to be able to tell you who scored the goals for them, but that’s the kind of goals they were,” he said. With all those guys crammed together, there was no way to tell.
Despite all that, the players have to maintain focus and composure and get a piece of the ball to keep it away from the scoring zone, Roth said.
The Eagles had three cracks at tying the game in about half a minute of playing time.
One of the players nailed a low screamer toward the far post that had the keeper beaten, Roth described. But then a defender rushing back was able to stick a leg out and deflect the ball out of bounds.
The Eagles got a corner kick out of the deflection and lofted the ball far post.
Juan Lopez had a rip at it, but the keeper made a SportsCenter highlight, according to the coach. On a ball headed to the upper lefthand corner, the keeper lunged out and made a block.
The ball went out the back line, giving Central a second corner kick.
On this one, Cruz controlled the ball and fired a hard shot that bounced off the cross bar.
Any one of those three could have tied the game, but it was just bad luck, he said.
“It is extremely frustrating to lose a lead,” he said. The Eagles’ only conference loss going into this game was to West Stokes, so they wanted not only to get revenge, but keep alive their chance of winning the conference title.
The Northwest Conference gets one automatic berth in the state 2A playoffs, and this loss pretty much gives that spot to the Wildcats, Roth noted.
“They deserve it, they have definitely worked hard for it,” he said.
The Eagles (9-2-2) likely have enough wins to make the playoffs, but they won’t have homefield advantage.
“I felt like we controlled the ball better than them, but no one asks who controlled the ball more,” he said.
The Eagles travel to Winston-Salem Prep on Monday.
Reach Jeff Linville at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1920.