The Buffalo Bills competed in four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-1994. Four times the Bills walked in hoping to give the franchise its first Super Bowl victory, and four times the team returned to Buffalo empty-handed.
Buffalo proved that it’s one thing to have an excellent season and playoff run, but an entirely different ballgame trying to win the whole thing; just ask the Mount Airy Granite Bears’ soccer team. While the Bears weren’t necessarily making it to a championship and failing, they have felt the sting of having a historic season ended in an instant. The Bears have the potential to prove the doubters wrong and go all the way, a trip that coach Will Hurley said must happen, “one game at a time.”
The Northwest 1A Athletic Conference has sent a representative to the state final in soccer twice in the past three years. In 2014, East Surry made it to the final before falling to Wallace-Rose Hill 3-1. Bishop McGuinness would suffer the same fate in 2016, losing to the Bulldogs 3-1.
Mount Airy had two opportunities to contribute to this conference’s accomplishments. The first took place in 2013, when the Bears were experiencing their best season ever, holding a 22-0-2 record. Mount Airy faced second-seeded North Moore on the Bears’ own field. Having not lost all year, the impact of the North Moore game was even bigger as Mount Airy would lose the game, handing them their first loss and eliminating them from championship contention.
Mount Airy looked to avenge the crushing defeat and made it to the Regional round against Community School of Davidson in 2015. The final four teams featured two number one seeds and a number two seed. The Bears entered as a 10-seed that was one win away from making it to the state championship. Once again, the Bears went home disappointed and defeated by a 6-1 margin.
Fast forward to 2017: the Bears are 18-1-1, a top-5 team in the state, and have a striker, Austin Tumbarello, with the second most goals in the state’s 1A division. Mount Airy has also scored 116 goals to their opponents’ 13.
Coach Will Hurley said the time is now to make a run, but they have to take it one game at a time.
In comparing his current team to the 2013 undefeated team, Hurley said, “Defensively we are right there with them, maybe better all-around. Scoring-wise, the creativity is there; we just can’t finish as well as that team could. We just have to buckle down and focus on possession time and finishing.”
The comparisons between 2013 and 2017 make sense. The 2013 team had six seniors, featuring an offensive leader in Mitchell Brown. The 2017 team has seven seniors and the defense is anchored by Mitchell’s younger brother, Robert, now a senior. It’s been an adventure for Hurley this season, who took time to appreciate his players following a 2-0 victory over East Surry on Senior Night.
“It’s been a really good season with these kids,” Hurley said. “Sometimes it is hard to get onto them, because they are so silly.”
Bouncing back from a loss wasn’t something that the 2013 team got to experience. The Bears’ first defeat came at the hand of Bishop McGuinness, a top-5 team in the state in its own right. Hurley wants his players to keep getting better and get back that fire that they had at the beginning of the season.
“They’re not satisfied, but they’re comfortable,” Hurley said.
With the last three matches for the Bears being a tie, loss, and a too close for comfort win, Hurley wants his team to get back to starting their attacks from the back line. He said they need to return to a defense-first mentality.
If you ask Hurley, the championship isn’t his main concern. While it looms in the back of his players’ minds, he has preached a mantra of, “one game at a time,” all season; a mantra that has won the Bears 18 matches, with hopes of many more.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith