An opportunity to advance to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 2A Soccer State Playoffs was on the line when No. 3 seed Wilkes Central squared off with No. 6 Forbush at Rivers Edge on Wednesday evening.

A lone goal proved to be the difference in the match. That would-be game winner came only five minutes into play for the Falcons in a 1-0 victory.

Wilkes Central (21-1) fell into an early hole, but its opportunities came in the second half, with several shots on goal in the late minutes. Unfortunately, the Eagles were denied each time.

“It was good soccer. We didn’t execute like I thought we should, but that’s the name of soccer. Players step up and do good things, and that young lady, she earned that goal,” stated Wilkes Central Head Coach Jim Caudill. “We never really got into our game plan, which was to attack the wings and to build it from there. We just didn’t have enough quality in the middle of winning balls, they beat us in that aspect, so we never got to the next step. That was the whole thing, trying to get the first step so we can develop into the second step.”

Forbush (17-2-2) wasted little time to start the match by putting the pressure on the Eagles very early. A Wilkes Central turnover allowed Marley Martin to take possession near midfield. Martin sent a long through pass up the right side of the pitch ahead of Bianca Gonzalez.

The sophomore fielded, turned to the goal, and juked past a defender for a one-on-one with Eagles goalkeeper Journey McCrimmon. Gonzalez hit a low roller to the right past the keeper to give the Falcons the 1-0 lead on their first shot of the match.

It was all Forbush in the opening half as the Falcons took advantage of turnovers from the Eagles, turning into opportunities on the offensive end. The Falcons’ offense went to work as they held possession a majority of the time in the first half. With that amount of time with the ball Forbush took four more shots on goal in the half, but the McCrimmon managed to prevent another goal.

The Eagles couldn’t get much going as they continuously turned the ball over and failed to connect on long passes offensively. Forbush forced the issue defensively and held Wilkes Central without a shot on goal in the first half.

After making some halftime adjustments the Eagles came out looking like a different team.

“We typically play a 4-2-3-1 shape, but we went to a 4-4-2 and just hoped we wouldn’t get killed in the midfield. We lost the battle in the midfield, so that’s why I moved Makenna (Freeman) out,” explained Caudill. “She did her job, she’s so dynamic on the ball that putting her up top gives us some chances. 2-0 is just as bad as 1-0 when it comes down to it, so we took a chance and took Sarah (Lowe) off the backline and put her in the midfield and for a short period, it worked for us.”

The change seemed to make a considerable difference as Wilkes Central came out aggressively and finally got into the opposing box.

Just three minutes into the second half, the Eagles had their first shot of the night. On a sideline throw-in, senior KT Adair led Emily Pontzer up the sideline. The junior crossed the ball to Kaylin Bang in the middle of the pitch, but Bang’s shot went wide right.

The early offense gave Wilkes Central some life as they played much more confidently throughout the remainder of the match.

Wilkes Central saw back-to-back opportunities on goal just 15 minutes into the second half, looking for the equalizing goal. Zoe Susi took possession near midfield and dribble past two defenders to get into position. The freshman stopped and sent a long strike on goal that seemed to be the equalizer, but the shot sailed inches over the crossbar.

On the Eagles’ next possession, Susi had another attempt as she took a pass in the middle of the box but her shot went right to Dez Taylor — the Falcons’ goalkeeper .

Forbush, who only managed three shots on goal in the second half, nearly added to its lead in the 68th minute. Junior Cortney Myers made a through pass up the middle to Gonzalez in stride for a one-on-one with McCrimmon, but failed to convert as her shot went right of the goal.

Moments later, Wilkes Central nearly evened the score by a bit of luck. Lowe bounced a shot to Taylor, but as the junior attempted to secure the ball, she lost control, allowing it to bounce off the right goal post. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the ball bounced right back into her hands.

In the final three minutes of the match, Wilkes Central received two free kicks and three corner kicks to give them a solid opportunity at the equalizer extending the game. However, with each kick, the Eagles were denied as every shot was either staved off from the Falcons’ defenders or sailing just wide of the goal.

Caudill went on to explain that playing from behind was concerning.

“To be honest, I thought we might collapse a little bit because we haven’t been in that position all year long. We kept moving pieces constantly, trying to find that magical connection,” said Caudill. “Toward the end of the game when I got the dynamic three (Freeman, Lowe, Susi) and Bang up there we got some production. We started winning balls and getting some opportunities.

“It was a good match, I would have paid to watch that match because it was hard fought, physical, solid soccer. I wish them the best of luck in the next round.”

The Eagles failed to make it into the fourth round of the 2A State Playoffs, but it doesn’t take away from the remarkable season they had. Caudill hopes to learn from this season and build off of their success.

“I can’t ask for more from the girls,” said Caudill. “We lose two seniors, who are very valuable to us, but we have a couple young ladies coming up that have played in the club system with us here that will hopefully fill some of those roles and some of the girls on the bench continue to develop.

“The Wilkes Cup — played at the beginning of the season — I actually thought if we’d come out at .500 we’d be great, but we come out unscathed and this group refuse to lose,” added Caudill. “We should have lost down at North Iredell but Zoe and Makenna decided we weren’t going to lose and found some late goals for us. With their work ethic, the future looks really good for us. We wish it’d start tomorrow.”

The Falcons will travel to No. 2 Lake Norman Charter (21-1) on Saturday at 6 p.m.

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