APEX — Austin Brackfield couldnt pick out just one fellow member of the Apex boys soccer team to celebrate with. So he rejoiced with the entire team.
It was his goal with five minutes left that effectively clinched the Cougars win Thursday night in a match between the two rivals atop the Tri-9 Conference. The Cougars knew it, and those sitting on the bench raced along the sideline to wildly congratulate Brackfield and Robert Smith, who assisted on the goal, as they stepped over the sideline.
Apex, fourth in the News & Observer area rankings, defeated Green Hope, ranked second, by a 3-1 score.
It meant the world to get that third goal, and Im sure you saw it in that celebration. It meant the world to me, said Brackfield, who also scored the first Cougars goal. Even in the first goal, to score against Green Hope, beat Green Hope, come back from behind was everything.
Apex had trailed almost immediately. Green Hopes Cole Dixon alertly tapped in a ball that had scooted behind and out from underneath the Apex goalkeeper to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead in the games fifth minute.
Brackfield answered with his first goal of the night in the 26th minute, striking a shot from the right side of the box that bounced by the near post and in.
Eleven minutes later, Apex took the lead as Anthony Miracolas corner kick was headed in by a charging Elliott Reid, who met the ball just as it was about to be punched out by the Falcons keeper.
The Falcons threatened, but Sean Bowman, a central defender, helped keep the Cougars ahead by turning away and dispossessing Falcons attackers.
We knew we had a shot because only lost to them 2-1 to them the first time, Bowman said. Once we tied them, we came out and started pressuring... and we thought we had the game.
The 2-1 score held through halftime.
We were 1-nil and we were on top, but we werent playing as well as we can, Green Hope coach Richard Huxford said. We had a couple other chances to make it two corners, long throws where we shouldve done better. Then we gave up two really bad goals and they get a lift. We need to be mentally stronger when were away from home. We need to be tougher.
About midway through the second half, Green Hope midfielder MacLean Holbrook left the game with an injury at a time the Falcons needed his on-field presence.
Holbrook, who had been working box-to-box helping the Falcons play the ball from the back line to the attacking third, was taken out on a slide tackle that earned the Apex player a yellow card. He didnt put any pressure on his left ankle as he was helped off, and was on crutches after the game.
With only minutes to spare, Green Hope switched its formation to see if it could get the tying goal and send it into overtime, but instead Smith and Brackfield worked a two-on-one give-and-go in the 75th.
Green Hope (16-2, 12-2) is still atop the Tri-9 Conference with two games left in the regular season, though the Cougars (13-4-1, 11-2-1) have cut into that gap in its own seven-game unbeaten streak.
The momentum thats seized from this particular win over a very good team and a team that is our rival, you cant even begin to talk about the intangibles of that, Apex coach Kevin Todd said. But we have to come back and be focused because this momentum can only take us so far.