DOBSON — As a alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the 2016 NCAA Men’s National Championship will forever be etched into my brain. I followed my school through the tournament and nearly fulfilled a storybook ending by winning the championship my senior year. But not all stories have happy endings, at least when you expect them to. The Villanova Wildcats last-second shot lifted them over the Tar Heels and left thousands of fans in Carolina Blue speechless. Being so close and coming up just short of your goal is a devastating feeling, and one the Surry Central Golden Eagles experienced first hand in a loss to the undefeated Forbush Falcons in penalty kicks.
“It’s heartbreak,” Central coach Blake Roth said. “You’re gonna hurt for the players a little bit but you have to move past that.”
The highly-touted matchup of 2A juggernauts took place Wednesday evening and lived up to all expectations. Both the Eagles and Falcons were inches away from earning a victory, only to be halted by their opponent. It seemed the two were evenly matched throughout regulation, both overtime periods, and even penalty kicks, and statistics supported the notion.
Surry Central came into the match with a record of 9-1, with its sole loss coming at the hands of West Iredell, 3-2. Forbush entered Dobson with a perfect 10-0 record. Central was ranked the 13th best 2A team in the state, Forbush number six. Both sat atop the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference and something had to give.
The first half saw both teams executing their respective gameplans to a T. Forbush executed well-placed set-pieces that allowed it to move the ball fluidly up and down the field. The Falcons also had an uncanny ability to find holes in the Eagles’ defense and exploit them. Surry Central regulated the pace of the game with excellent movement in the midfield. The entire squad moved as a unit and avoided getting outnumbered by the quick strikers of the Falcons.
Central took control in the opening minutes with a flurry of offense stemming from Luis Padilla, who had two shots in the first five minutes. Ernesto Caro and Miguel Tello nearly scored goals, if it wasn’t for the outstretched hand of Forbush keeper Enrique Rosales. Rosales’ huge punt could send the ball 60 yards and create instant offense for the Falcons. Forbush took its turn pelting shots at Ivan Padilla, but failed to find the back of the net.
Neither team had a clear advantage in the first half, and it seemed it would be 0-0 at the half. But a counterattack by Forbush led to Blake Shore sending the ball into the box to be crushed by Carson Davis past Padilla. Multiple Eagles claimed the scorer pushed an Eagle defender out of the way, but the referee wouldn’t hear their claims. The Falcons entered the half up 1-0.
Surry Central began the second half trying to dribble through the Falcon midfield with little success. This allowed Forbush to keep possession and set up goal-scoring opportunities off more set pieces. Chase Melton had a run up the middle that looked like it was straight out of a FIFA game, but Padilla deflected the shot.
It took the Eagles about 15 minutes to really regain control of the match. They went back to their roots of methodical passing and created more shot opportunities as a result. Forbush was eventually caught off-guard and fouled, leading to a free kick to the left of the goal just outside the 18-yard box. While Chaco Sanchez was originally slated to take the kick, Central coach Blake Roth called on left-footer Nolan McMillen to fire when ready. McMillen pinned the ball perfectly between the near post and the Falcon keeper to even the score at 1-1.
The Eagles took little time to celebrate and began attacking once again. Tensions were high and kept building when Eric Cruz Morales received a yellow card in the 64th minute. Action was non-stop in the closing minutes of the half, but neither team could put the other away. The Falcons had numerous shots at the end of regulation but many of them were off frame. A winner couldn’t be decided in 80 minutes, so the teams headed to overtime. Regardless of goals, the teams would play two 10-minute overtime periods. As voted on by the conference before the season, a tie after the second overtime period would lead to penalty kicks.
Intensity found its way to the sideline when Coach Roth received a yellow card. This lead to a discussion between Roth and the middle official, in which Roth reported the official retracted the card. Shots rained in on both sides of the field but to no avail. Caro had a good look for Central, but didn’t quite connect as well as he would like. There were some scares, but the teams played it safe to avoid being scored on.
Luis Padilla nearly put his team ahead two minutes into the second overtime, but his shot collided with the crossbar. Central stayed on the offensive and earned three shots and two corner kicks in the 10-minute period. The Forbush defense survived the barrage of offense by Central, and the game went to penalty kicks.
It’s only fitting that the game would be decided by PK’s as the teams were so evenly matched throughout. Surry Central tallied 18 shots to Forbush’s 16. The Falcons keeper had 12 saves and the Eagles’ keeper had eight. Forbush took slightly more corner kicks by a count of five to four and the foul count was 14 to 11, with the home team leading that category.
Each team nailed its first two kicks without any resistance, coming from Luis Padilla and McMillen for the Eagles and Charlie Benitez and Joel Guadarrama for Forbush. Miguel Tello put Central up 3-2. Melton’s shot for the Falcons was nearly blocked by Andres Flores but went off his fingertips into the goal.
Riley Templeton and Hernan Garcia achieved the next two goals for Surry Central. Shore and Davis kept the Falcons in the fight with goals of their own. Now in extra kicks, Sanchez lined up to kick. Sanchez took aim to the the lower right corner and Rosales guessed correctly, deflecting the shot. Alexis Maya nailed his shot to secure the win for Forbush.
“We went toe to toe with one of the best,” Roth said. “We are going to try and come back and learn from what we did. I’ve got a couple ideas of what we can do different over there.”
The much anticipated rematch between Forbush and Surry Central takes place on October 16 at Forbush High School in what is sure to be another instant classic.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith