MISENHEIMER — Three down, three to go. Mount Airy’s chances of winning a state championship became much more realistic with a 1-0 overtime victory over Gray Stone Day on Wednesday night.
With a win in the third round of the state playoffs, the Granite Bears tied the school record for wins (22), while one more victory will send Mount Airy to the regional final for only the second time ever.
“This win means a ton because they’re exhausted, worn out, and on the road on fields they’re not used to,” Bears coach Will Hurley said. “We just don’t quit.”
The Bears faced Lincoln Charter on a turf field in the second round of another 1-0 victory. This time, Mount Airy competed on a collegiate field that was much wider than traditional high school fields.
This didn’t stop the Bears (22-1-1) from jumping on the opposing Knights early. Despite an early shot from Gray Stone’s Zack Norman, Mount Airy controlled much of the early offense.
Austin Tumbarello made the first strike for the Bears off a through ball from Julio Contreras. Tumbarello used his left foot on a tough angle but the shot was saved by the Gray Stone keeper.
On the defensive front, Jackson Tumbarello stopped Gray Stone runs before they could gain traction. Jackson Tumbarello sent the ball to the Bear offense who would earn a corner kick. And another. And another.
In the first ten minutes of play, Mount Airy attempted five corner kicks. Constant pressure by the Bears created shot opportunities that would deflect off Knight defenders out of bounds.
Gray Stone stood firm and didn’t allow a goal during the Bears’ onslaught. The Knights’ Chase Viscomi made it past Mount Airy’s defense and delivered a shot just wide of the goal.
The Bears pushed the ball back into Knight territory with set-pieces involving Austin Tumbarello and Jarrett Jimenez. A shot by Jimenez was deflected, leading to another Mount Airy corner. Austin Tumbarello’s header off a Contreras corner bypassed everyone but the Gray Stone keeper, who snatched the ball out of the air at the last second.
Gray Stone created a counterattack that took the Bears off-guard and forced a tackle from Robert Brown that earned him a yellow card. Brooks Kennedy took the free kick for the Knights, allowing a teammate to get a shot on goal. Although appearing to enter the goal, the ball went through the side netting.
With the scoreboard still showing a pair of goose eggs, the Bears shifted their formation up. As a result, all 11 Knights were on their side of the field trying to defend.
The bedlam of so many bodies in close proximity led to a foul by Gray Stone 30 yards from their goal. Brown’s free kick went to the lower-90 with a trail of fire not far behind. It took a diving save from Gray Stone to keep the score tied at zero.
The final Gray Stone attack before halftime nearly saw the home team gain the advantage. Kennedy found an opening 35 yards from the Mount Airy goal and took the shot. Kennedy’s shot forced Bear keeper Jesus Valadez to make a diving save, first knocking the ball down and then collapsing on it.
Mount Airy also had a chance to gain the lead before the half with a point-blank shot from Jimenez, whose shot was blocked and subsequently cleared out of danger.
The Granite Bears out-shot Gray Stone 11-5 in the first half and took 10 corner kicks to the Knights’ 2.
As the second half began, it was almost like a different game was being played. The Bears struggled to advance the ball past midfield, and the aggressiveness of Gray Stone had grown exponentially.
The first five minutes of the half took place mostly within 30 yards of Mount Airy’s goal. Valadez stayed on his toes and had to make a number of saves to keep a clean slate.
Jackson Tumbarello started the Bears’ first run of the half with a through ball to his brother. When the Knights defense tried to clear the ball, Mount Airy defender Jesus Luna put the ball back into Knight territory.
Back-to-back corners by Gray Stone failed to put them on the board and allowed Mount Airy to slowly turn the tide of the match back in its favor. A Brown free kick put the ball at the feet of Jesus Lachino. Lachino attempted a shot, but it was deflected due to Gray Stone bringing everyone back to defend.
The first false alarm of the second half came from Austin Tumbarello. The junior sped past defenders up the left sideline before cutting in toward the Knights’ goal. Austin passed another defender before putting the ball past the Gray Stone keeper. However, the sideline official reported the ball went over the end line before the shot, negating the goal.
With possession having favored each team at different times in the half, it began to balance out midway through the second half.
Viscomi broke free from the Mount Airy back line and appeared to have a one-on-one situation with Valadez. However, Jackson Tumbarello did his best impersonation of LeBron James in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals by chasing down Viscomi and rejecting the opposing striker’s shot.
The intensity of the match got higher and higher as the clock neared closer to zero. Gray Stone’s Luke Hill earned his team’s first yellow card of the evening for a hard foul on Austin Tumbarello.
Both team’s created runs and threatened to score. Another false alarm occurred in the second half’s closing minutes, this time on the side of Gray Stone. Jackson Maness found Viscomi, who proceeded to dart past the Mount Airy back line. The ball appeared to enter the Bear’s goal when seemingly out of thin air appeared Jackson Tumbarello to save the day.
“That play was amazing,” Hurley said. “I am so proud of him, he’s done an awesome job.”
With the miraculous save by Jackson Tumbarello, it was evident that the standard 80 minutes wouldn’t be enough for these evenly matched teams.
It was clear that the Bears didn’t want to repeat their slow start of the second half when they began the first overtime period as if they were shot out of a cannon.
A quick foul from Gray Stone (19-2-1) allowed Contreras to send the ball into the box on a free kick. Contreras’ kick slipped straight through the keeper’s grasp and out of bounds. Although the corner kick wouldn’t yield a goal, the ensuing play would be a game-changer.
As the ball was cleared from the corner kick, Contreras dribbled up the middle of the field and gave the ball to Luis Osorno. Osorno chipped the ball over the Gray Stone defense to Jimenez. Jimenez drew the keeper out and passed the ball parallel to Austin Tumbarello to finish, putting Mount Airy up 1-0.
Now in hurry-up mode, Gray Stone looked for instant offense while the Bears looked to maintain their lead. The teams became more aggressive, with both Lachino of Mount Airy and Kennedy of Gray Stone receiving yellow cards in the period.
The Knights kept the ball on the Bears’ side of the field for most of the period. Gray Stone’s best chance to score came from Adam Sumner as time winded down. Sumner’s shot from just outside the 18 tested Valadez, but was ultimately stopped.
What would be the final 10 minutes of play saw Mount Airy go back on the offensive. Austin Tumbarello attempted to increase the Bears’ lead, and even when he didn’t get a shot off, the senior drew fouls. Tumbarello would leave the game in the second overtime after a collision with Gray Stone’s keeper.
A run by Maness was the last hope for the Knights, but was saved by the Bears’ knight in shining armor, Jackson Tumbarello. Time expired and Mount Airy punched its ticket to the regional semi-finals.
Of the 12 teams remaining in the tournament, only two double-digit squads remain. Raleigh Charter, a 10-seed, and the 12th seeded Mount Airy are the lowest seeded teams still alive. However, the Bears have the best record of any team in the West Region.
Mount Airy will compete in the regional semifinals on Saturday, November 11 against the West’s 1-seed, Pine Lake Prep (19-1-1).
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith