The streak is over.
The Mount Airy Granite Bears ran through opponents all season en route to a perfect 17-0 record. The Bears scored an incredible 112 goals while only allowing 8. Will Hurley’s squad had trailed opponents less than a handful of times. Only twice had the Mount Airy margin of victory been a single point, with the Bears coming out on top each time.
With the season winding down, the competition was at an all-time high for Mount Airy. First, the Bears traveled to Boonville to face the Starmount Rams. The Bears and Rams fought tooth-and-nail but couldn’t decide a winner in the allotted time, giving Mount Airy its first tie of the season. With a goose egg still in the loss column, Mount Airy traveled to Bishop McGuinness High School two days later. The first meeting of the Bears and Villains was an instant classic that resulted in a 4-2 win for Mount Airy.
The teams entered Thursday’s match as two of the top teams in the state. Mount Airy sat at 17-0 while the Villains were 10-2-3, with their sole loss in 1A competition coming at the hands of the Bears. A cloudy night in Kernersville would change everything in the Mount Airy’s pursuit of perfection. In a match that featured nine cards given out, including a straight-red, two teams battled for 80 minutes in hopes of vanquishing the other. It was the Villains who defended their home turf, simultaneously becoming the first team to defeat Mount Airy all season, 4-1.
The Bears looked to strike first with a shot from Julio Contreras. The shot was saved and the Villains would take control of the game for the next 10-15 minutes. Bishop’s offense kept constant pressure on the Bears’ back line with a constant threat of scoring. Using a deadly combination of speed and crisp passing, Bishop nearly scored in the third minute if not for a clearance by Jackson Tumbarello.
Hammering shots at keeper Jesus Valadez, Bishop was awarded an astounding five corner kicks in the first 10 minutes of play. David Molen elevated above the Mount Airy players and connected with the ball on his head but sent the ball just wide of the goal. Nick DeSalvo redeemed his teammate just minutes later by putting the Villains up 1-0. Andrew DeSalvo extended the lead to 2-0 with a goal almost exactly one minute after the first. The offensive flurry continued for Bishop when the Villains earned a penalty kick in minute 10. The PK by Molen soared just right of the goal.
Mount Airy was stunned by the flurry of offense coming at them. Coach Hurley said Bishop came out ready to play from the opening whistle.
“I give them credit, they came out really pumped up and ready to play,” Hurley said. “We came out about as flat as we could have and they came out hyped to compete.”
Down 2-0 with lots of soccer yet to play, Hurley got his team to settle down and play its game. Hurley stated that his team realized they could compete at the pace set by Bishop once they calmed down. Contreras and Jesus Lachino regulated the midfield for Mount Airy, sending the ball to Dante Collins and Austin Tumbarello up top. The Bears could get the ball down field, but were stopped by Molen and the back line of Bishop before they could get a quality look on goal. It wasn’t until Robert Brown sent a free kick into the Villains’ box that keeper Yael Guzman was truly tested.
Bishop’s incredible spacing allowed them to carve up the midfield of Mount Airy. Alex Ruiz and Ethan Hodges played the role of distributors for the Villains, setting up numerous shots for their strikers. At times when the Bears were caught playing kickball, Bishop stayed calm and used their spacing to keep the pace at the game where they wanted. The Villains seemed to be a step quicker than their opponents in the first half.
As the half came to a close, Mount Airy built more and more offense. The Bears capitalized on late fouls by Bishop to put the ball into Villain territory, but still struggled to get on the board. While no goals were scored to end the half, Jake Rademaker and Nick DeSalvo, both of Bishop McGuinness, received yellow cards in the final two minutes of play.
Bishop continued to control the game into the second half, keeping the ball on Mount Airy’s side of the field. Molen again found his way separated from a defender and had a header off a Bishop corner kick, just barely eclipsing the crossbar. Brand Standen had a shot within 10 yards of the Bears’ goal, but sent the ball wide.
The Bears desperately needed to get the ball out of their half of the field to keep the game competitive. However, the Mount Airy midfield struggled to get the ball into Villain territory. Fouls would derail the Bears’ momentum by giving the ball away. When the Bears tried to send the ball ahead to Austin Tumbarello, the Bishop back line sent it flying back toward the Mount Airy goal. This would be the scene for much of the second half.
“Our midfield was the problem,” Hurley said. “Not an individual or two or three specific players but as a whole.”
The final 13 minutes of the game were like an NFL game. Not only in terms of physicality, but there were so many stoppages that 13 minutes on the clock equated to 40 minutes of real time. It began when Mount Airy got on the board in minute 27. The Bears sole corner kick of the half soared to Lachino, who sent it toward the six-yard box to be finished by Austin Tumbarello.
The Bears played with new life only down one goal. However, Jackson Tumbarello received a yellow card in the 28th minute, leading to a heated discussion between Hurley and the official that saw the coach receive a yellow card as well. Two minutes later, Nick DeSalvo added his second goal of the match to put Bishop up 3-1. Comments following the goal saw Brown also receive a yellow card.
Still determined to get back in the game, Mount Airy’s offense took the ball deep into Bishop territory before being called for a foul. Whether it was the foul, comments made by players, or perhaps the competitive nature of the players, something caused the teams to get involved in a scuffle on the Bishop sideline. Officials tried to separate the players and keep them apart while getting to the root of the problem.
Yael Guzman of Bishop McGuinness and Jarrett Jimenez of Mount Airy were each given yellow cards. The clock remained stopped for nearly 15 minutes as the officials spoke with coaches and players. Play finally resumed in hopes of getting through the final six minutes problem-free. However, tensions remained high and again peaked with a player receiving a card. However, this time the card wasn’t the same color as a ripe banana.
Luis Osorno was awarded a straight-red card with less than two minutes left on the clock. The official stated that he heard Osorno make comments aimed at an opposing player and gave him the card. Mount Airy, now down to just 10 men on the field, gave up their fourth and final goal of the match to Bishop’s Brad Standen with a minute remaining. A final yellow card was given to a Bishop player before the end of the match, with Mount Airy taking its first loss of the season.
“I don’t like losing, but hey, there are some losses that are good for you,” Hurley said. “I hate losing, but we needed the experience of a loss before playoffs.”
“It’s not like you lost to a bad team,” Hurley told his players after the match.
Bishop McGuinness and Mount Airy are now tied for first place in the conference and each have two remaining conference matches. If the season ends with the teams tied, a penalty shootout will be held to determine a winner.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith