WENDELL — Smithfield-Selma hadn’t won a boys’ conference championship in anything since a baseball title in 2010.
And the seniors on this year’s soccer team finished 0-14 in the Greater Neuse River 4A three years ago.
So the Spartans deserved a little understanding for their wild celebration after clinching the title in their inaugural season in the Two Rivers 3A Conference on the road Monday night.
Senior Harrison Howell scored a pair of first-half goals and Joseph Williams added the clincher with about five minutes to play as SSS ruined the Senior Night of Johnston County rival Corinth Holders, 3-1.
The win improved the Spartans to 12-4-3, 8-0-1 in conference play with one game left in the regular season.
It’s the second straight week Smithfield-Selma has won a conference title. The SSS girls’ golf team had broken the overall championship drought.
The boys’ soccer victory came as the Spartans were saying goodbye to coach Renato Freitas, who has accepted a teaching job in Florida but said he plans to fly back for any weekend playoff games. Former coach Kristian Stewart will be the effective interim head coach in Freitas’ absence.
“The key for tonight was fate,” Freitas said. “We knew we could play our best. Corinth had a great game, but I think we believed more than they did. We went for every ball.
“We worked the whole season for this. We defended every ball. We had guys go 80 minutes and never stopped.”
Corinth Holders, which was a power in the Northern Carolina 2A before moving up this season, is 14-4-1 and 7-2 and has clinched second in the league and a state playoff spot.
“(SSS) is a good team,” Pirates coach Brent Walston said. “They’ve played good competition. They’ve played 4A level before and have great senior leadership. They have all the makings of a good team.
“Obviously we’re disappointed. We hoped we’d have an opportunity to tie the game and send it into overtime. But they made the most of a great opportunity when we were pressing up.”
It was for the most part a hard-fought, even game with the Spartans putting eight shots on goal to the hosts’ seven.
Howell got the Spartans on the board in the eighth minute, when he tapped in a long free kick from along the left sideline by Daniel Avila. He then doubled the lead in the 26th minute by tipping a pass from Oscar Villanueva into the right corner of the net.
“On the first goal, I got by the last defender and the ball went right over his head and I just put it in,” Howell said. “On the second one, the ball slid right through and I was in the right place at the right time.
“This championship is great. We worked really hard for four years. It was a long battle after having a winless season in the conference.”
Corinth Holders cut the lead in the 61st minute as Alan Landeros scored right to left across the goal mouth.
“I was just trying to get the team back,” Landeros said. “We still have some games left. We have lost some games before and come back strong. We won’t give up. I hope we can play them again in the playoffs.”
Williams got the winner on a breakaway in the 75th, with Johnny Ventura on the lead pass.
“Coming from 9th-grade year when we lost every (conference) game nobody expected us to win,” Williams said. “Everybody doubted us. But we all knew as soon as this season started this was our year. We have an amazing group of guys. It’s like I’m dreaming right now.”