The proverbial Bear trap was set on Tuesday evening, but Mount Airy just was able to slip out of it.
An inspired effort from visiting Ashe County threatened to spoil the perfect season for the state’s second-ranked 1A team, but a goal from Jesus Lachino with 37 seconds remaining proved to be the difference in a 4-3 victory for the Granite Bears at Wallace Shelton Stadium.
“We didn’t play like we were capable of playing,” said Mount Airy head coach Will Hurley. “Coming off of yesterday’s game, with a conference game coming up, this was kind of a trap game for us. And honestly, we haven’t play very many full games, and it’s tough that we’re having to do that now. I give them credit, though, they don’t quit.”
Mount Airy, now 16-0 on the season, held a 2-0 lead in the first half on goals by Jarrett Jimenez and Robert Brown, but the Huskies, currently third in the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Conference, rallied to even the score by intermission. The Bears launched a relentless attack on the Ashe County goal in the first 20 minutes of the second half, but all of their efforts proved fruitless. Simon Cawley finally gave Mount Airy a 3-2 lead in the 64th minute, but the Huskies (9-7) evened it less than five minutes later.
After the Bears barely prevented Ashe from taking the lead twice late in the match, it appeared as though Mount Airy would stay unbeaten but not perfect. Robert Brown shot a free kick wide left with 96 seconds left, but Lachino found an opening from about 23 yards out a minute later and put it past the Huskies’ keeper to keep the perfect season alive.
“We were our own worst enemy tonight,” Hurley said of his team’s offensive misfires. “We were kind of playing what I call kickball, and we can play better than that.”
While Mount Airy certainly was in a letdown mode after beating county rival North Surry in a tough, physical game on Monday, and probably looking ahead to an important conference game on Thursday, the Huskies clearly saw things differently. Despite being undefeated, no one really knew how good the Granite Bears actually were until they beat Bishop McGuinness last week and moved up to No. 2 in the state in the MaxPreps ratings.
Ashe County didn’t care what Mount Airy’s record was, what they were ranked, or that it was a trap game for the Bears. They took the fight to their hosts and kept it there for 80 minutes, even after falling behind 2-0. The Huskies tied the match by scoring off a corner kick and then getting an attacker behind the defense.
Starting in the 45th minute, the Bears launched a series of attacks against the Ashe County defense, but their passes weren’t crisp, and the Huskies were typically able to force Mount Airy into taking difficult shots. It started in that minute, when Julio Contreras took a free kick and pushed it wide right of the net. A minute later, it was Lachino’s turn; his shot was spot-on, but a little too high and went over the crossbar. In the 50th minute, Austin Tumbarello got open from 12 yards, and the Husky keeper dove to his left and knocked it away. A minute later, Tumbarello tried again, this time on a header from eight yards, but it sailed wide of the net.
In the 55th minute, Tumbarello made an uncontested run until he got near the end line, where an Ashe player knocked out for a corner kick. The Bears put it in front of the net but couldn’t score. Ashe then mounted a threat at the other end but the Bears parried it as well.
Finally, in the 64th minute, another Mount Airy corner kick led to several players jostling for the ball in front of the Ashe goal, and it settled in front of Cawley, who finally finished for a 3-2 lead. But the Bears had an uncharacteristic defensive breakdown five minutes later, and after a long pass from near the visiting sideline, a striker finished off a shot got it past Jesus Valadez to tie the score again.
The Huskies very nearly took the lead in the 75th and 76th minutes, when they were controlling the ball near the Bears’ goal. At one point, Valadez had to rush out and make a sliding save on a ball to prevent a one-on-one attack from an Ashe attacker. A minute later, Valadez was caught out of position on a shot, and Lachino had to clear it from in front of the goal.
Finally, the Bears reversed the field and Brown earned a free kick inside of two minutes, but put the ball left of the goal. The Huskies cleared it, but the Mount Airy midfield won possession back inside of a minute, and Hurley encouraged his players to hurry up and get the ball in.
The Bears weren’t satisfied with merely staying unbeaten, and with less than 40 seconds left, Lachino met the ball with no Ashe defenders close enough to stop a shot, and with the Husky keeper manning the other side of his net. He quickly took the shot and buried it into the back of the net, prompting a celebration from Hurley and the Bear sideline.
Mount Airy returns to conference play on Thursday, hosting South Stokes.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.