DOBSON — Surry Central expected a tough road ahead after losing two starting midfielders in September. Fast-forward to the present and the Golden Eagles have won 10 straight and are undefeated in the Western Piedmont 2A Conference.
Central (11-1-2, 7-0) defeated conference foe Atkins 2-1 Monday to maintain control of the conference. Sitting just a game behind the Eagles is West Stokes (9-3-3, 7-1), whose only conference loss came at the hands of Surry Central last week.
The Eagles had to dig deep into their bag of tricks to pull out a W in Monday’s match.
“Not all wins have to be pretty the whole time,” said Central coach Blake Roth.
Central essentially played with one less attacker because they man-marked Atkins’ Donnie Leahy. Leahy has 20 goals on the season for the Camels (7-9-1, 3-5), and is one of the most explosive players that Roth has ever seen. Marking Leahy was sophomore Matthew Antunez, who was brought up from JV earlier this season.
“That was a move that I decided last minute,” Roth said. “We just have to watch him, he’s so quick with the ball. If we didn’t mark him, he would have a head of steam ahead of us and be more dangerous than he actually was. Matthew (Antunez) did a great job tonight, that was one of the highlights that we kind of shut him down.
Antunez is normally an attacking player, but was used to mark Leahy because of his speed.
The Central strategy on offense was the same it’s been all season: play the ball wide, control the pace, and strike at the right times. At times, the Eagles fired on all cylinders even without starters Nolan McMillen and Chaco Sanchez. Other times, Central would deviate from its game plan and get caught up in their opponents’ game.
“Health is a big problem, but the other thing is we keep falling into another team’s strategy,” Roth said. “I felt like the first 15 minutes of the game, we came out and did exactly what we were supposed to do. We were spreading them out, and then after a while of them just booting over our defense, we decided we were going to boot it right back.”
It was in that first 15 minutes that Surry Central netted its first goal of the night. Daniel Orozco headed in a corner kick from Orlando Ocampo in the 11th minute to give the Eagles a 1-0 advantage.
Central held the Camels shotless in the first 20 minutes of play. When the game sped up, it began to favor Atkins. Henry Present flicked the ball over the Eagles’ back line, allowing Leahy to break free from Antunez and tip the ball over keeper Johnny Garcia at 24’.
Even after tying the score at 1-1, the pace of the game continued to be controlled by the visiting Camels. Surry Central committed a number of fouls on the Atkins counterattack simply by being out of position. The Eagles led the Camels 7-5 in the first-half foul count.
Kevin Montero did manage to send a through ball to Jason Rodriguez at the end of the half as a last-ditch effort to take the lead. Rodriguez raced Atkins keeper Roman Robinson to the loose ball, and the latter snatched it up just in time to keep the game tied going into halftime.
“I told [my team] at halftime that ‘these guys are a little bit more athletic than you,” Roth said. “Top to bottom, they’re faster and bigger than us. If you want to play fast and loose with them, then it’s going to be a long second half because I feel like they’ll have the definite advantage.”
Roth wanted his squad to go into the second half swinging and got the opposite. It was Atkins that got the first shot on goal and kept pressure on Surry Central for the first five minutes. The Eagles played kickball when mounting counterattacks to give the ball right back to the Camels.
The Eagles finally broke free in the 46th minute and earned a corner kick. Ocampo earned his second assist of the night when Edgar Vega finished a corner kick that gave Central a 2-1 advantage.
“I’m going to brag on my two goal scorers because I haven’t all year,” Roth said. “Edgar Vega up top, he came into the starting lineup after Chaco went down with an injury and is now our leading scorer. Daniel Orozco is a lockdown left back, but has also scored in like five conference matches.”
Roth continued, “We’re getting help from everybody and that makes it hard for teams to mark just one or two guys.”
Shots continued to rain in for the Eagles, but none soared into the back of the net. Central’s back line made sure nothing made it behind them, setting up lots of midfield play. Axel Rangel regulated the midfield for Surry Central and set up a number of outside runs.
Play was sloppy at times, with a player from each side earning a yellow card, but Central never really lost control in the second half. The Eagles out-shot the Camels 10-2 in the second half to pull away with a 2-1 win.
Getting McMillen and Sanchez back is on the top of Roth’s wish list. For now, though, he’s winning with the resources he has.
“We got a long ways to go,” Roth said.
Surry Central and Atkins both continue conference play on October 10, with the Eagles traveling to Carver (3-4, 3-4) and the Camels hosting Walkertown (6-9-1, 0-8).
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith