BENSON — West Johnston seized momentum halfway through the second half with a tying goal and dominated the first overtime period to defeat Garner 4-2 on Wednesday in a Greater Neuse River 4-A Conference boys soccer match.
“I told the guys I wanted us to attack [in overtime], to get the ball behind their back line,” West Johnston coach Ken Sweat said. “A lot of time in overtime you get tired, and you can take advantage of a mistake.
“If you sit back and let the other team attack, they can gain momentum. You can’t stop attacking.”
The Wildcats (3-7, 2-2 Greater Neuse River) got a tying goal from senior Caleb Hill, his second of the game, in the 62nd minute.
The two teams headed into overtime tied at 2-2, and the Wildcats took the lead for good when Tyler McClymonds emerged from a pack to score from the left side five minutes into the second overtime.
Cristian Santos made it 4-2 on a breakaway with an assist from Hill, streaking down the left side and kicking it in left-footed past Garner keeper Kenneth Perkinson.
“That’s the best when you have a breakaway,” Santos said. “I just put it in the goal.”
Garner (5-2, 2-2) was stymied in both 10-minute overtime periods.
“This is not a game that we have played the way we have been playing [in building a 5-1 record],” Garner coach Jon Sherwin said. “West Johnston out-hustled us. I thought we played flat.
“With high school boys, you never know which team is going to show up. Tonight, it was not a team that came to win. And [West Johnston] did.”
The result keeps both teams within a game of first place in the conference. Garner downed Smithfield-Selma 2-1 on Monday.
Wednesday, West Johnston took a 1-0 led in the 13th minute when Hill split the Garner defense and scored from about 20 yards out on the right.
Taylor Stephens had both goals for Garner, twice taking advantage of West Johnston not clearing the ball on its end of the field.
In the 29th minute, Stephens tapped in a goal from point-blank range after the ball slipped past the West Johnston keeper. Four minutes later, Stephens scored again to make it 2-1 at halftime.
West Johnston battled back in the second half, controlling action in the midfield to set up its attack against a Garner team that was playing its second overtime in three days.
“For the bulk of the game, it was a breakdown in the midfield,” Sherwin said. “We just were not pressuring the ball. One of the things that West Johnston was able to do was work it through our midfield and get right up on our doorstep. It doesn’t take too many of those before they are going to get right up on our doorstep. It doesn’t take too many of them before they are going to find the back of the net.”
Sweat credited junior John Atherholt with strong midfield play and setting the tone for the Wildcats.
“He’s an intense kid,” Sweat said of Atherholt. “When he plays at his highest intensity, it affects the whole team. He is fantastically skilled. He just wins ball out of the air, and he is not the biggest guy.
“He can set the tone for the team. He did that tonight. In the second half, he just came out and was sliding on the balls everywhere. He was all over the field.
West Johnston snapped a two-match losing streak, and Sweat wants his team to stay on the attack.
That consistency [we had tonight] is something that we need to bring out here every game,” Sweat said. “If they can start doing that … that attacking mentality is so important.”