If the season ended today, both Mount Airy and Surry Central could be proud of the soccer seasons they’ve enjoyed.
The Granite Bears won their first 17 matches of the season, tied and then lost on the road to two other top-10 1A teams, and have since won four more in a row to own the best overall record in the state’s 1A ranks at 21-1-1.
As for the Golden Eagles, they had to replace heavy graduation losses from their 2016 team, but ended up reloading. Central also got off to an excellent start, then overcame a slight midseason slump to secure second place outright in the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference, and are now the last WPAC team still playing this fall.
Tonight, both of them enter third-round playoff action on the road. This is the pivotal match of the postseason for both teams. A victory sends both the Bears and Eagles to the elite eight of their respective postseason tournaments, and brands each team as a bona fide threat to take a state championship.
Surry Central (16-5) made a statement in Saturday’s second round. Thomasville had gone to WPAC champ Forbush in the opening round of the tournament and shut the Falcons out in one of the biggest upsets of the season. Even Central head coach Blake Roth said that any team that could go to Forbush and win could beat anyone — but they didn’t beat the Golden Eagles. Central was ready, and controlled the match throughout to win 3-1.
Tonight, it’s the Eagles’ turn to hit the road, and they’ll be effectively going for the city championship of Thomasville. Central’s third-round opponent is Ledford, the town’s other high school and the runners-up in the Central Carolina 2A Conference. The 20-3 Panthers played Thomasville twice during the regular season and won 3-2 and 5-0. The only other common opponent between the schools is Atkins, whom Ledford beat and the Eagles split with.
In their first two matches of the playoffs, the Panthers routed Smoky Mountain 6-0 and then upset Central Carolina champ Central Davidson 3-2 in double overtime. It was the third match of the season between those teams, all decided by one goal. Ledford won two of them.
Senior Ben Baker leads the Panthers with 66 goals scored, on a team that has scored 127 this season. He is well-known to many local players, thanks to his having competed on Mount Airy head coach Will Hurley’s Midwest all-star teams that won the bronze medal at the State Games of North Carolina the past two summers. Obviously, the 6’0”, 165-pound striker will be a focus of the Eagles’ defense. Fellow senior Christian Romero is second on the team with 20, and senior J.T. Farabow has found the back of the net a dozen times.
Senior Kenton Farabow does most of the work defending the goal for Ledford, although John Vanhoy also plays a lot.
The winner of the match will face either Lake Norman Charter or Patton in the state quarterfinals. Both are seeded higher than Central, so the Eagles would be on the road against either team.
As for Mount Airy, losing the tiebreaker after sharing the Northwest 1A Conference title with Bishop McGuinness has made for a borderline ridiculous playoff draw — the 1A team with the state’s best record entered the postseason as a wild-card team and has had to play conference champions on the road beginning in the second round. The Bears eliminated Southern Piedmont 1A champ Lincoln Charter 1-0 on the road Saturday, and tonight they will take on Yadkin Valley 1A co-champ Gray Stone Day (19-1-1) in Misenheimer. The Knights shared their league title with North Moore, but secured the top seed out of the league.and hold the No. 4 seed in the 1A West.
Gray Stone defeated Queens Grant 3-2 on Saturday in its playoff opener after receiving a first-round bye. The Knights are the state’s 11th-ranked 1A team according to MaxPreps.com, while Mount Airy is fifth.
The teams have no common opponents, and GSD is on a 10-match winning streak since losing 2-0 to North Moore on Sept. 25. The Knights avenged that loss by beating North Moore by the same score two weeks later.
The winner of this match will face either Pine Lake Prep or Community School of Davidson in a quarterfinal match on Saturday. The Bears would be on the road against either opponent, if they advance. Gray Stone is seeded higher than CSD and could host against them.