CARY — The story of the Green Hope boys’ soccer team trying to repeat last year’s success with an almost entirely new set of players will continue right on to the 4A East final. A goal in the 91st minute, the first minute of the second overtime, was the game-winner as the Falcons defeated visiting East Chapel Hill 1-0 Saturday night.
After 100 minutes of play, the game’s only tally came from an own goal, deflected in by an East Chapel Hill player after Green Hope’s Josh Kennedy sent in a cross from the left side. After the initial save by the goalkeeper, it hit off another Wildcats player and rolled back towards the goal.
Another Wildcats player came in to clear the ball off the line, but the linesman ruled that the ball had already crossed the goal mouth.
Green Hope (22-2), the defending 4A state champions, will host Wilmington New Hanover (16-6-2) either Tuesday or Wednesday in the 4A East final. New Hanover defeated Southern Pines Pinecrest (16-3-3) in a game decided by penalty kicks (4-3 after a 1-1 tie).
“We had to work for it. It was a tough game, wasn’t it?” said Green Hope first-year head coach Richard Huxford.
Huxford said he was watching the linesman during the own goal, and trusted his view of it. East Chapel Hill first-year coach Austin Collins disagreed with the call based on his players’ protests.
“We’re going to still go with that didn’t go over the line, as far as we’re concerned,” Collins said. “From what we were told is that had plenty of room to clear it out and the ref said he was sure it crossed the line.”
The Wildcats had the better scoring chances in the game’s first 30 minutes, but Green Hope started to shake off its rust towards halftime. In the second half, East Chapel Hill’s back line stepped up to thwart several near chances for the Falcons.
Right back Santiago Betancur dispossessed many attacks aimed at him.
“He played absolutely amazing tonight,” Collins said. “Every time, he was right there with (Kennedy) ... he was our player of the match for sure.”
The Wildcats alternated goalkeepers Jake Hilkey, who played the first half and first 10-minute overtime, and Matthew Cocca, who played the second half and second overtime.
Green Hope goalkeeper Sam Bissett stood tall for the full 100 minutes, punching out crosses, intercepting others, and making saves on dangerous opportunities for East.
“Normally, we’ve not relied on our keepers a lot, but tonight he came up with a really big game,” Huxford said. “He gave us that assurance at the back.”
The only real chance for either side in the first overtime was a header from Zack Compton, who positioned himself under a deep Andrew Lawrence cross, which he pushed just wide. The Falcons, normally a through-the-middle team, played more long balls as an adjustment to East Chapel Hill’s defensive shape.
To start the second overtime, midfielder MacLean Holbrook sprung Kennedy for a run down the left side before Kennedy’s cross that led to the game-winner.
“Tonight was the game to (play long balls) and then pressure them once the ball was in that area, just to turn the back four and play it wide more,” Huxford said. “A lot of (our players) want to play pure soccer all the time, but sometimes you’ve got to adapt to the situation.”
This season was the best for East Chapel Hill (17-2-2) as a 4A program. The Wildcats, who had 13 seniors, were unbeaten in their last 15 games entering Saturday’s contest, and had won the PAC-6 Conference title outright.