CARY — Green Hope leading scorer Drew Altman wanted nothing more than to play Friday at Cardinal Gibbons, but even just before the game the senior wasn't certain on his status after separating his shoulder while scoring a goal during Monday's game against Panther Creek.
But with almost 15 minutes to go, Altman was on the field and over the ball in a tied game between two of the nation's top 50 high school boys soccer teams.
In a slow-developing counter attack after a long clearing kick by a Falcons defender, Altman took the ball along the right side before playing it to junior Tommy Labriola, who then found senior Michael Montero who slotted home the go-ahead goal with 14:14 left in the contest.
Altman, a usual starter, came off the bench to have a hand in the winning tally in as Green Hope held on for a 3-1 victory.
"Coming off the bench, I was just going to do my best with the time I have," Altman said. "We were patient, took our time and got it in."
Montero's goal soon begat another one or the Falcons. Less than two minutes later, senior Tyler Carroll fired in a wonder goal from 20 yards out and to the right side of the net to give Green Hope ample breathing room.
As the Falcons have proven all year long, it doesn't matter which player gets the goals. Green Hope coach Andrew Chadwick said he's noticed the difference in his team's balance from others in the area.
"I look in the News & Observer at the (area goal) leaders and we don't have anybody near the leaders because we spread it among eight or nine guys," Chadwick said. "I mean, who do you mark? There are a lot of guys who can do it. It's nice to have so many weapons."
Where the visiting Falcons (12-0-0) -- ranked 12th in the country and No. 1 among North Carolina 4A schools -- distinguished themselves from the host Crusaders (8-1-1) -- who are themselves ranked 45th in the nation and No. 1 among the state's 3A teams -- was their finishing ability.
"We're such a well-rounded team," Altman said. "We have people at every position who we trust to play accurate balls. We can move it around and ping it, or just get it up to our forwards."
The Falcons scored the game's first goal with a defender capitalizing off a scrum following a corner kick.
Gibbons goalkeeper Chris Shannon made the save, but it fell to the feet of senior Will Moore. Moore, standing just feet from the goal line, couldn't miss from there, and Green Hope went up 1-0 in the 12th minute.
Despite three different counterattacks before halftime, Gibbons failed to get a shot on frame and still trailed going into the break.
"We need to make sure that when we get those opportunities that we put them away," said Crusaders goal Tim Healy.
Stellar dispossessing plays from Crusaders defender Nick Day helped keep Gibbons down just a goal as the second half reached the midway point.
With about 19 minutes to go, Gibbons senior Zach Milliken sent in a pass from 40 yards out and near the right sideline that fell right in front of streaking Crusaders teammate Tyler Zimmerman just as Zimmerman got past the Green Hope back line.
Zimmerman headed the ball into the net, tying the game.
After dodging a few more Gibbons bullets, Green Hope went up for good after Labriola's assist found the right foot of Montero.
"I was using this game as a complete playoff preparation game," Chadwick said. "In the second half, we calmed down and we just played better."