PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry left Walnut Cove disappointed on September 20 following a 2-1 loss to South Stokes in double overtime. The new-look Cardinals paid their conference foe back Tuesday with a 2-1 win at home.
“It was a good win,” said Cardinal coach Neal Oliver. “I thought that we had a lot of missed opportunities in the first half that could easily have given the match away if [South Stokes] had got a lucky break. I really felt like we should’ve had four goals by halftime, but most coaches feel that way.”
East (6-5-2, 1-3) came into Tuesday’s match riding a four-match losing streak that began with the earlier loss to South. In that time, the Cardinals fell 2-1 to North Surry, 2-0 to the then-No. 4 ranked Mount Airy Bears, and 7-1 to the No. 1 ranked Bishop McGuinness Villains.
The Cardinals went into halftime of the Bishop game tied 1-1. It was then that Oliver and assistant coach Samuel Lowe made the decision to switch up the lineup. Instead of relying heavily on defense, East went on the attack and played to win. Oliver said he would much rather lose that way than playing for a close loss.
“It looks good when you lose 1-0 or 2-0 to a top-10 team, but it doesn’t fix anything,” Oliver said. “We felt like we had been too defensive and we decided that we needed to come out and just go after somebody. We put a few more speed bodies up front.”
Oliver credited Lowe for instituting the lineup change and the results showed in the win over South Stokes (3-11-2, 1-3).
Oliver’s feelings that the Cardinals should’ve led by halftime was backed up by the shot count. East Surry outshot South Stokes 11-4 in the first half. In addition to the shot count, South led the foul count 6-2 in the first half. Even when East wasn’t putting shots on goal, they were putting the ball in Saura territory.
Anderson Allred and Oscar Duran controlled East Surry’s midfield and facilitated runs up both sidelines. Juan Ramirez had the first quality look of the game at 13’, but his shot ricocheted off the crossbar.
One of the changes made to the Cardinals’ lineup was on defense. Sweeper Gonzalo Chavez moved to attacking midfielder, leaving fellow senior Seth Lowe to anchor the back line. Seth and his outside backs, Jacob Lowe and Cade Williams, held the Sauras to long shots and the occasional through ball to be snatched up by keeper Ethan Casstevens.
Despite the offensive barrage by East Surry, the teams entered halftime tied 0-0. The real scoring action began at the onset of the second half.
Cardinal midfielder Leo De la Cruz started the half with a dangerous cross from the left sideline that nearly put East ahead. When Cruz had an opportunity to make a similar cross in the 43rd minute, he was fouled inside the Saura box. Allred converted on the penalty kick to put East ahead 1-0.
Two minutes later, it was South Stokes that had their own penalty kick. Captain Lowell Shotton found the back of the net to even the match at 1-1.
Instead of playing it safe, East looked to take the advantage once again. At 49’ Brady Jessup took a through ball from Allred and crossed it into the Sauras six-yard box. Chavez headed the cross straight down and past the keeper to go up 2-1.
Chavez nearly extended the lead by intercepting South’s kickoff and sending the ball just wide of the goalpost. Though not going in, this represented the Cardinals’ new up-tempo offense.
East was able to hold South scoreless by slowing the pace of the game with precision passing. Oliver commended his players for the passing improvement as well as their movement off the ball.
“We really did pass the ball well,” Oliver said. “We held on too long a few times, but overall, I thought we did a better job of looking for and finding each other and that really allowed us to control the pace of the match.”
South Stokes’ Shotton and Zack Burrow each had good looks at the Cardinals’ goal in the second half, but couldn’t get past Casstevens. Although East won the shot count in both halves, South showed extreme accuracy. For the Sauras, 4-of-5 shots in the first half were on frame and 3-of-5 in the second half were as well.
Despite a number of quality shots, South failed to even the score and force another overtime thriller. East earned its first conference win in the 2-1 victory.
The Cardinals put conference play on hold by hosting county foe North Surry (8-4-1, 3-3) on Thursday. South resumes conference competition against Mount Airy (12-2, 2-1) Thursday.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith