At times, North Surry soccer coach Eric Jessup must have thought his other sport — wrestling — had begun a month early.
The Greyhounds were clearly the more skilled team in Monday night’s Western Piedmont Athletic Conference battle with Walkertown, and the Wolfpack knew it and countered with aggressive and physical defensive tactics throughout the match. Fortunately, North stayed on its gameplan and was able to walk out of Charles Atkins Stadium with a 3-0 win.
“It was a physical game but that is what soccer is all about,” said Jessup. “They were trying to get in our heads a little and slow our momentum down, but we got it sorted out, kept our eyes on the ball, and stayed on task.”
Although the Wolfpack is in last place in the WPAC, the Wolfpack has been competitive in all of its league matches, and Jessup wasn’t taking them for granted on Tuesday. The match was a must-win for the Hounds (8-4-1, 3-3 WPAC), who are in a four-way logjam with Carver, Atkins and Forbush for the third state playoff berth in the conference.
“The guys played well tonight. That’s two good wins in a row, and we’re still in the hunt for the playoffs,” Jessup said. “Walkertown has a good squad, they’ve played everybody close. This was a good way to start the week off.”
North had gotten off to a fast start in its first meeting with Walkertown a month ago, and Vincent Hernandez and Joseph Rangel made sure it happened again on Monday. In the third minute of play, with the Hounds controlling possession, Hernandez sent a ball over the heads of the Wolfpack defenders ahead to a streaking Rangel, who had a step on his marker and was able to finish from 15 yards out.
The goal set the tone for most of the match. Walkertown (6-9-1, 0-8) was able to mount repeated individual threats on the Greyhound goal, but were overcome by the home team’s better teamwork. Two minutes after the first goal, Hernandez had a free kick from 35 yards and went looking for Rangel again, but the latter couldn’t quite fight through a defender and meet the ball. In minute seven, Rangel blasted one off the hands of Walkertown keeper Henry Olin, but the latter was able to recover it.
The Wolfpack’s Jose Villalba had the first serious shot on goal for his team in the 10th minute, after North keeper Carson Draughn had been too aggressive coming out after a ball and let Villalba get past him with an open net. However, he rushed the shot and missed the left post. Walkertown’s Irvin Valentin had a chance to tie in minute 18, but was high and left of the left corner of the net.
Rangel was continuing to give the Wolfpack fits whenever he got the ball, and in the 23rd minute, he had what appeared to be sure goal before a Walkertown fullback deflected it away. Two minutes later, Olin stopped a hard shot from Kevin Hernandez, but it was just a matter of time for the Hounds.
In the 32nd minute, it finally happened. Jair Gonzalez made a centering pass from the home side of the field to Dallesandro Raya, who got just enough space inside the 18-yard box that he was able to fire a shot inside the left post and give the Hounds a 2-0 edge.
Villalba tested Draughn again with about a minute and a half left in the first 40, but the North keeper dove to his left and made the save to preserve a two-goal lead at the break.
The script changed little in the second half, and the Hounds continued to test Olin and the Walkertown defense. Rangel just missed two shots and Olin stopped one from Raya in the first five minutes. The Wolfpack was then able to flip the script, with three of its players getting shots over the next several minutes. In minute 54, Draughn made an impressive stop on a shot by Walkertown’s Stephen Saucedo-Sanchez that preserved the shutout, and then things began to go North’s way once more.
In minute 58, Gonzalez had a strong shot that Olin just did get to, while the Wolfpack began to get more aggressive with its play. One theme in the match had been Valentin and Villalba being marked by North’s Grant Whittington, who had acted almost like a traffic cop in front of his team’s goal. There was a run-in between he and Valentin at one point, but he and Julio Para refused to back down and kept frustrating the Walkertown attack.
Another altercation took place in minute 65, where the Hounds’ Dillon Hernandez and a Walkertown player were each assessed a yellow card after a shoving match that the officials had to break up.
The physical play only prompted the Hounds to turn up the intensity, though. Rangel had two more quick shots on goal, one of them barely tipped over the crossbar by Olin. Raya had the same experience in minute 73, resulting in a corner kick taken by Vincent Hernandez. He delivered the kick to the goal box, where Whittington got a head on it and then Rangel headed it a second time, into the Wolfpack goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Hounds had the ball most of the time as the clock wound down, with Vincent Hernandez and Luis Valle both nearly scoring. Draughn made one more save on Villalba to complete his shutout.
North will host league rival Forbush on Wednesday night.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.