RALEIGH — Green Hope senior Josh Kennedy believed from the start that this season was his class turn at championship glory.
He was right. And so he led the celebration Saturday, soaking in the Falcons 2-0 victory against Charlotte Myers Park to repeat last years 4A N.C. High School Athletic Association state championship title.
With his jersey twirling high in the air and a smile stretched across his face, a shirtless Kennedy was the first Green Hope boys soccer player to run to the student section seated in the front rows of N.C. States Dail Soccer Stadium.
Green Hope celebrated in similiar fashion in last years title win against Myers Park. So when Kennedy ran to the sideline, he was carrying on a bit of Green Hope tradition.
I was jealous of all the seniors that got to do that last year, Kennedy said.
Some thought tradition is all the Falcons had going into this year.
Green Hope had to replace all 11 starters plus ESPNs choice for national coach of the year. But Kennedy, who put Green Hope (24-2) up with a goal in the 66th minute, knew his group could add to it.
Sam Bissett, Green Hopes junior goalkeeper who was named MVP of the championship game, wasnt as sure.
If someone had told me that at the beginning of the year, I would have told them they were crazy, said Bissett. I just never thought wed be able to come back and do this again after everyone we lost.
Things didnt start smoothly for the Falcons, playing a Myers Park (20-4) team making its third straight trip to the title game.
In the first half, Myers Park had five shots and forced one save. The best opportunity for the Mustangs came on a give-and-go that ended with Hussein Alis shot hitting the outside netting in the 7th minute.
Green Hope directed four headers at the goal in the first half, all coming from free kicks or throw-ins. They were all were pushed wide, though Cole Dixons in the 17th missed by less than a foot along the goal mouth before being cleared away.
After a scoreless first half, Green Hope dodged danger early in the second.
Bissett who nearly didnt come out for the second half as he had become ill from his first-half nervousness made a save on a breakaway in the first minute of the second half, knocking the ball off the foot of Myers Parks Kipp Carriker.
Three minutes later, Kennedy had a header tipped over the goal for a save, but it wasnt long until the Falcons were under fire again.
In the 48th minute, a Bissett save deflected to a Myers Park player, whose shot was blocked and cleared by a Green Hope defender as Bissett scrambled to his feet. The ball fell to another Myers Park player, and that shot was saved at the final moment by a twisting, diving Bissett.
It was a special save, Green Hope coach Richard Huxford said. Hes been great the last few rounds.
Green Hope forced a Myers Park save in the 52nd minute, as Silfo Guzmans shot took a deflection before being covered up. MacLean Holbrooks strike in the 56th was also saved.
The Falcons were finding their form.
We didnt start the game well... But I thought we grew into the game, Huxford said.
After a deep cross to Kennedy landed on the right side of the box, Kennedy took a touch and, noticing the Myers Park keeper was at the near post, lofted a looping shot to the far post. It bounced over the goal mouth and inside the side netting.
I settled it and hit it back into the danger area. I knew it could take a bounce and go in or one of my guys could get on it, Kennedy said. In these games, youve got to put one away, and I finally got it.
Ali tried a bicycle kick in the 68th minute, but the highlight-reel effort hit the post and no Mustangs teammates were there for the rebound. Green Hope turned away two more efforts before it started finding open space in the counterattack.
Holbrook led a 3-on-1 counter, but the shot went off the crossbar. The rebound was saved with 2:45 left on the clock.
Then Green Hope sealed its championship on a Myers Park miscommunication. A pass along the back line went to no one, and the Falcons Zack Compton turned it into a 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper.
He buried it with 1 minute, 51 seconds left.
Kennedy watched, thinking if he puts it away, its over.
He got it in the back of the net, Kennedy said. And I couldnt be happier.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps