DOBSON — A murky, wet field on a Saturday isn’t ideal weather for high school soccer. That didn’t stop the Surry Central Golden Eagles from extending their winning streak to five and advancing to the third round of the state playoffs by defeating the Thomasville Bulldogs 3-1.
Following a 4-0 victory over Fred T. Foard on Wednesday, the Eagles expected to face conference rival Forbush away in the second round. However, Forbush was upset by Thomasville on Wednesday, giving Surry Central home-field advantage.
Though Central coach Blake Roth was relieved not having to face Forbush for a third time this season (the Falcons won both previous meetings), Roth knew Thomasvile wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.
“We knew coming in that, one, they were going to play hard, which they did throughout.” Roth said “Second, we knew about [Willy Asumu].”
Roth altered his normal lineup by dropping Nolan McMillen back on defense to mark Asumu, the Bulldogs’ most dangerous weapon. Roth told McMillen,”Your job is to shadow him, don’t let him breathe.”
“You’ve got to give props to Nolan McMillen.” Roth said.
The Eagles’ offense adjusted to the new formation almost immediately. Hernan Garcia took a through ball past the Thomasville back line and keeper before placing it in the goal just four minutes into the match.
Central didn’t let up after the first goal, but did have trouble getting shots off. Thomasville’s Bryan Martinez was constantly on the move and had three sliding steals in the first 10 minutes alone.
Martinez moved up to offense on occasion and even threatened Central keeper Ivan Padilla with his spot-on free kicks. Due to the rain earlier in the day, the ball would skip along the ground and was difficult to catch. Martinez’s free kick at the 7:00 mark was batted down and secured by Padilla.
The Bulldogs’ next scoring opportunity came off a cross four minutes later. The ball flew across the Eagles’ box untouched and set up Michael Salgado for a shot. Salgado’s shot was on target, but blocked by Padilla.
Momentum shifted soon after, with Central keeping constant pressure on the Bulldog defense. A cross saw Garcia contend for a 50-50 ball with Thomasville keeper Gerardo Robles. Robles was a half-step quicker and was able to punch the ball out of danger.
Robles would not have the same amount of luck on the ensuing Eagle counterattack. Chaco Sanchez of Surry Central took the ball up the middle of the field following a shot by Thomasville. Sanchez saw an opportunity to strike just outside the 18-yard box and hammered the ball to the lower right corner to increase the Eagles’ lead to 2-0.
Central kept its foot on the gas and didn’t allow the Bulldogs to get a shot off for the next 17 minutes. The shot count was an even 4 when the Eagles scored their second goal, but 10-4 before Thomasville finally tested Padilla again.
Surry Central’s defense denied any offense the Bulldogs tried to mount, and gave the ball right back to the Eagle attackers. Riley Templeton and Andres Flores were a forcefield to be reckoned with on the back line for the home team.
On the other end of the field, Ernesto Caro was the Eagles’ distributor. Caro controlled the midfield and sent the ball wide to Sanchez and Eric Celaya, both continuing to pound shots at Robles. Surry Central out-shot Thomasville 14-6 in the first half.
A free kick by Martinez at minute 32 broke the dry spell for the visitors. Martinez put the ball on frame with a good amount of power behind it. The shot was deflected and quickly covered by Padilla.
The half ended with a Central corner kick by Axel Rangel. Rangel’s corner bounced around the Bulldogs’ box before being kicked out of bounds as the half ended.
The physicality of the first half carried into the second, with Caro earning a yellow card two minutes in.
This time, it was Thomasville that struck early in the half. The free kick that resulted from Caro’s foul found Asumu, who had been relatively quiet due to the marking of McMillen.
Asumu trapped the ball surprisingly well considering the weather, took a touch on the ball and fired from 25-yards out. Asumu’s shot went to the lower 90, just outside the outstretched hands of Padilla to close the gap to 2-1.
The one-goal margin would be short-lived, much to the chagrin of Thomasville. Sanchez found Garcia up the home sideline. Garcia took the ball to the corner while Sanchez cut to the box. Garcia got past a slide tackle from Martinez before crossing the ball to Sanchez to finish.
The pace of the game slowed down following the third goal from Surry Central. The ball bounced from 18 to 18 with neither side able to get clean shots off.
It wasn’t until minute 60 that Asumu broke free from McMillen outside the Eagles’ 18 and was subsequently fouled. Martinez’s free kick from the 20 was blocked by a five-man wall.
The final 20 minutes of play saw a shift in offense, with Surry Central playing defensive-minded soccer, while the Bulldogs attacked. Salgado nearly brought the Dogs to within one with a shot that Padilla had to block into the post. Minutes later a Martinez free kick nearly did the same thing, but it was corralled by Padilla.
Central did mount offense on occasion, but did so mostly to get the ball away from their goal. A sense of urgency was seen in the eyes of Thomasville players, while Central played conservatively.
The Bulldogs would bring seven or eight players up on counterattacks in hopes of closing the gap. The best opportunity came in the closing minutes of the match, when Christian Garcia had an open look but hooked it wide right.
Time reached closer to zero and reality set in for the Bulldogs. Time ran out and Surry Central booked their ticket to the third round.
“We’ll just take it one game at a time,” Roth said on the Eagles’ mindset moving forward.
“We play our own style,” Roth continued. “As long as we concentrate on what we are supposed to do and have in mind what the other team has, I think we will be okay.”
The West’s 14-seed, Surry Central (16-5, 7-3) will travel to 11-seed Ledford Senior (20-3, 15-3) on Wednesday. The winner of that match will advance to the Elite Eight.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith