Head Coach Jim Caudill isn’t afraid to challenge his young Wilkes Central Eagles, and has put together a tough nonconference schedule full of playoff qualifiers from last fall.
That schedule included a visit from powerful Forbush Monday evening on the pitch at Wes Steele Stadium in Moravian Falls.
The Falcons, who have averaged nearly 20 wins a season over the past five campaigns, beat the Eagles 7-3, but despite the loss Caudill saw some promising signs for a Central team featuring 14 sophomores and freshmen.
The match got away from the Eagles as the second half progressed, with the Falcons scoring five times in the last 40 minutes.
But at the intermission the score was tied 2-2, and Caudill was pleased with the early effort.
“We knew coming in we would possibly struggle in the nonconference,” said Caudill, whose Eagles fell to 0-7 after losses to Alexander Central (8-1) and Hibriten (6-1) on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. “But we didn’t schedule any cupcakes. We wanted to present our kids with a real challenge, and show them how hard you have to compete at this level, both physically and psychologically.
“So when we went into the half tied at two-apiece against a very good side, we felt proud of the way our team battled through the first 40.”
In fact, the Eagles took the initial lead quickly against the visitors when Brandon Lopez found the back of the net past Forbush keeper Rodrigo Perez in the second minute.
That lead held until the 20th, as the Falcons started to apply extra constant pressure against the Eagles’ defense. The equalizer was the result of a booming, powerful shot from the right corner by Samuel Crews, who sent the ball low and past Eagles’ goalie Roman O’Sullivan.
Four minutes later, the Eagles took the lead again, thanks in large part to a great individual effort by Lopez. The senior forward took the ball into the box on the left and challenged the Forbush backline. The result was a tripping penalty charged to the Falcons, which set up a penalty kick opportunity.
Bryan Francis did the honors, sinking the ball low past Perez. But the celebration was short-lived, as the Falcons responded almost immediately.
After the ensuing kick-off, Forbush moved the ball into the right corner with relative ease. Crews again came through with the score, sending the ball across the face of the goal and into the left for a tie, a mere 14 seconds of play after the penalty kick.
Forbush scored quickly after the intermission, too. The two sides battled the final 15 minutes of the first half without sniffing the net, but pressure produced the third goal of the night for Crews, and gave the visitors the lead for good at 3-2.
The advantage swelled to 5-2 before the Eagles found the net again, on a beautifully executed run in the 61st minute. Lopez collected the ball at midfield and sprinted though the heart of the Forbush defense, shadowed step-for-step on the left by Francis.
Lopez passed the ball to Francis just outside the box, and Francis took it in stride. Before Perez could recover from challenging the sprinting Lopez, Francis strongly booted the ball into the right side, cutting the deficit momentarily to 5-3.
But Forbush kept the momentum and netted two more scores to improve to 5-2 on the fall.
Caudill used the match to test different players in different positions, as roles are not yet necessarily set in stone.
“We moved some pieces around, and generally I liked what I saw tonight,” said Caudill. “But my assistant coach Armando Limon — who is generally smarter about these things than I am — reminded me that we may need to develop some consistency in our line-up, too.
“So while we’re making adjustments when we need to, we’re making sure kids are becoming more comfortable in specific roles.”
Forbush tied county rival Starmount 1-1 Wednesday evening at home. Monday, the Falcons take on Carver, also in East Bend, to start Western Piedmont Conference play.
The Eagles start their Mountain Valley Athletic Conference slate with a home match against West Wilkes, who finished the non-conference schedule at 5-1. The Eagles beat the Blackhawks twice last season.