GREENSBORO — All Austin Tumbarello had to do was just stay calm.
The rising junior on the Mount Airy High School soccer team was determined not to leave the men’s soccer tournament at the Powerade State Games of North Carolina empty-handed, and in the first minute of overtime in the bronze medal match, he had the kind of opportunity that a soccer player can only dream of.
Tumbarello beat a defender, and found himself closing in on the goal with only the opposing keeper in front of him. The keeper stepped out aggressively to try to take the ball from Tumbarello, but as the two met, the Bear forward was able to tap the ball past them toward the goal. The keeper had overrun the play, and now Tumbarello was the only one facing the goal, and he was closer to the ball.
“He touched the ball, and it went just over the 18-yard mark, so I just ran by him and finished,” said Tumbarello. “I was excited. I was just hoping I wouldn’t sky it, just score it.”
He coolly closed in before the keeper could recover, put the free ball into the net, and the Midwest Region team took a 5-4 lead over the South in the 81st minute of the match. They held on through the rest of the first 10-minute overtime and throughout the second one, earning the bronze medal for the second year in a row.
“We all put in a lot of hard work, and it paid off,” said Tumbarello. “We’re coming back next year and we’re going to go for the gold.”
It was a satisfying ending to a tournament in which the Midwest squad, which featured both Austin Tumbarello and his brother Jackson, along with Jeremy Shore and Chase Melton of Forbush, and coaches Will and Holden Hurley of Mount Airy, had to sweat out the outcome of other matches that morning before knowing if they would play for a medal at all.
“I felt like we were in every game we played,” said Will Hurley, who has been the Midwest head coach in the State Games for a number of years. “We didn’t play very well in the first half of the first game yesterday, but it was a really good weekend for us.”
This year’s format allowed for the top two finishers in each pool to advance to the medal round. However, Pool A was slightly stronger than Pool B, which included the Midwest team, and only two Pool B teams even earned a win over a team from the other pool. A win in its first match on Monday would have assured the Midwest of a spot in the gold medal game, but they were unable to hold a second-half lead against the Southeast, falling 4-3. However, their 3-2 win over the West on Saturday was enough to claim a spot in the bronze-medal match.
While the two teams that they’d lost to played for the gold medal in the UNCG Soccer Stadium, the Midwest played the South team on the neighboring practice field for the bronze.
The South came in on a high note, having just come from behind to beat the West in a match that was win-or-go-home for both teams. It took them less than two minutes to score, putting quick early pressure on the Midwest defense and keeper Eric Winkler (Page) and taking a 1-0 lead when a loose ball in the box went off a defender and into the goal.
The lead held up for about 10 minutes. In the ninth minute of play, Mark Rowan (Homeschool) nearly tied the match when his free kick banged off a post. The ball went to teammate Harry Hardy (Page), who took a shot of his own and just missed wide left from 15 yards. However, the Midwest kept the pressure on, and two minutes later, Giovanni Lagnerini (Page) made the equalizer from 15 yards just inside the right post.
Austin Tumbarello nearly put his team ahead in the 13th minute, but Lagnerini and Andrew Brown (West Davidson) teamed up to give their team a 2-1 lead in the 17th.
Nearly 20 minutes of the first half ticked away before anyone else could find the net against either side, but in the 37th minute, Zach Allen (Lincoln Charter) took a shot in traffic that again went off a Midwest defender and into the net, tying the match at 2-2 and also giving the Midwest the dubious distinction of having committed two own-goals in a single half of soccer.
At the break, there was no discouragement about the way the South had managed to tie the match; in fact, many of the players were more frustrated with the fact that the two teams’ jerseys were nearly identical in color — the South was wearing white and the Midwest a light gray — and this made for confusion when the teams were at close quarters. Assistant coach John Blake (Ledford), who had two players of his own on the team, told them that they’d given the South two goals, and that they were the better team and deserved to go home with a medal.
The second half was another dogfight. In the 50th minute, 10 minutes into the second half, Austin Tumbarello gave the Midwest a 3-2 lead after taking a cross from Rowan and knocking the ball past the keeper from seven yards in front. However, this woke the South up, and in the 52nd minute, they tied the match again with their first unaided goal of the evening.
Rowan had two opportunities to put the Midwest back on top toward the end of regulation. In the 67th minute, he shot wide left of the post on an open net, but eight minutes later, he was running down the middle of the field toward the South goal when he was basically tackled inside the goal box. The referee blew the whistle and awarded a penalty kick, which he converted for a 4-3 Midwest lead.
Only about five minutes remained, and it looked like Rowan had delivered the medals. However, in the 79th minute, Allen struck again on a desperate rush forward by the South, scoring the tying goal. The teams went to overtime tied at 4.
The Midwest attacked to start the overtime and Tumbarello scored for the second time. From there, it was just a matter of holding on. In the 85th minute, the South made a dangerous cross in front of the goal and it looked like Allen would have a chance to tie the score yet again. However, Jackson Tumbarello beat him to the spot and kicked the ball safely away.
Shortly after the first 10 minutes, the teams switched sides, and the younger Tumbarello was whistled for a yellow card about 20 yards from the goal. This gave a free kick to the South, but the Midwest defense held and cleared the ball out. The same thing happened at the other end, with a South defender earning a yellow, and Rowan had a free kick, but he missed.
Allen had his last real shot in the 95th minute, but Winkler made the save and his defense cleared the ball safely. Time expired and the bronze belonged to the Midwest.
“We actually scored seven goals in this match, because we scored two for them,” said Hurley. “But it was a great day, and I’m proud of all of the kids and coaches for all they did.”
In their Sunday morning match, the Midwest could have played its way into the gold medal match with a win against the Southeast, which went unbeaten in pool play and ended up with a silver medal. In the 48th minute, Brandon Linares (Bishop) scored to give them a 3-2 lead, but the Southeast tied it in the 67th minute and then went ahead 4-3 when Cannon Tootle (Swansboro) headed in a corner kick. In the 78th minute, Melton just missed a shot that would have drawn the match and sent the Midwest to the gold-medal game.
Due to the other results, they nearly backed into it anyway, but the South’s rally against the West in the day’s next match allowed that team to jump into the medal round and bump the Midwest down to the bronze-medal game, ironically against the South itself.
“We were actually hoping the South would lose, and we’d have actually been in the gold medal game,” Hurley said.
While the bronze match was going on, the Central team (Raleigh/Triangle area) beat the Southeast 6-3 in the stadium for the gold. The Central beat the Midwest in the opening match of the tournament on Saturday.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.