Form didn’t hold Saturday night in the second round of the NCHSAA Boys 3A soccer tournament. Or, to be more precise, the formations used by 17th-seeded Richlands didn’t hold.
The Wildcats, who placed third in the Coastal Conference behind perennial powers Jacksonville and White Oak, used a myriad of formations and an aggressive, opportunistic attack to pull off the shocker of the tournament, a 4-2 elimination of the East region’s top-seeded Corinth Holders.
The Pirates, champions of the Two Rivers 3A Conference and owners of an unblemished 20-0-0 record entering the contest, found themselves facing the worst possible opponent – a near carbon-copy of themselves.
And after jumping out to an early 1-0 lead, found themselves looking for ways to solve the continually changing looks of the Wildcats. That lead came on a right to left cross in the middle of the box from Grant Austin to Pedro Segundo six minutes into the match.
The ease of that goal, along with a relentless pressing attack, gave every impression that the Pirates would make short work of their visitors. But everything changed with 12 minutes elapsed – particularly in the look of the Wildcats, who improved to 16-5-2.
“Richlands played great,” said Pirates coach Brent Walston, who saw his team exit with a 20-1 record. “They played outstanding, they played our own game against us. And they played it better than we did tonight.”
Walston admitted the Wildcats pressured the Pirates, forced them into turnovers and took advantage of those turnovers by capitalizing on them.
Richlands changed its formation moments following Segundo’s goal, and began chipping away at the Pirate defense. Their efforts were rewarded 13 minutes in, when Anthony Howard sent a left to right cross in front of the goal to Tolson Jeffrey, who blasted a shot by Pirates goalkeeper Christin Green.
Ninety seconds later, Jeffrey repaid the favor, with an almost identical feed to Howard, giving the Wildcats their first lead of the night, 2-1.
Shortly after halftime, the Wildcats changed their formation again, following what would be an insurance goal by Roman Eddleman, who tallied his second goal of the night.
Eddleman took a through ball from Elijah Jinks, raced up the middle of the field, turned to the left and beat a pair of Pirates defenders, before launching a left-to-right shot past Green for the 4-2 margin.
“Corinth Holders is a great team,” said Richlands coach Mike Roed. “When you go 20-0 you are a great team, I don’t care who you play. If you can orchestrate a team that can go 20-0, then they did an excellent job.
“We were able to make some changes in our system. Our guys’ intelligence on the soccer field is unmatched; we started out in one formation, and after (the Pirates) scored, we changed formations on the fly,”
Roed said the Wildcats coaches didn’t have to say anything so Walston and the Pirates staff could not pick it up.
“In the second half we changed it again,” Roed said, “After we scored our fourth goal, and I thought my boys did a great job. We got behind the ball, and worked well out of the defensive formation we ran.”
The Pirates were able to figure out the Wildcats second formation with 11 minutes left in the half when Grant Austin leveled the match at 2 on an unassisted goal.
But the Wildcats needed only a few minutes to re-assert themselves, and took a 3-2 lead into the halftime break with a give and go from Jeffrey to Eddleman with just over five minutes left in the half.
Following Eddleman’s second goal, Richlands changed its look again, and used that style to prevent the Pirates from getting quality looks at goal.
“I told our guys at halftime that whoever scored the first goal of the second half would dictate the flow of the game,” Walston said.
“They (Richlands) did that, which turned out to be the one that gave them the two-goal lead.”
Walston said the Wildcats made adjustments, and once they had secured the two-goal lead dropped 10 men back, making it tough for the Pirates to create chances.
The Pirates finished the night with a 13-7 advantage in shots on goal.
“I thought we came in with a good game plan,” Walston said. “But their pressure kept us out of sorts and we were having to pay catch up most of the night.”