For the first 46 minutes of Monday night’s non-conference soccer match with county rival Princeton, North Johnston lived by the old boxing axiom: if you attack the body, the head will fall.
But for the entire 80 minutes, the Panthers were also living another axiom: if you let a team hang around long enough, it could come back to bite you.
Both axioms played out as the Panthers and the Bulldogs battled to a 1-1 standoff on the North Johnston pitch to wrap up their 2014 home-and-home series.
The Panthers’ goal came at 34:20 of the second half, on a right-to-left blast by Marcos Orosco that caromed off Princeton goalkeeper Tanner Flowers’ hands and just inside the right post for a 1-0 North Johnston advantage. North (1-1-1) appeared to have momentum completely on its side, with a shot by Pio Camacho sailing over the crossbar on four minutes later.
Ian Walston banged a shot for the Panthers off the right post two minutes after that.
Princeton (0-1-1), meanwhile, was fighting to limit the Panthers attack, while enduring mounting frustration from their physical opponents and being on the receiving end of two yellow cards. But everything turned around midway through the second half, when Cameron Parker banged in a rebound of a shot by Nick Phillips to tie the game at 1-1 with 21:37 to play.
“We definitely needed that,” said Bulldogs coach Morgan Brush. “It was a big goal for the boys. It was exactly what we needed to get our heads back.”
And although North took the final four shots of the match, Flowers stopped three while a fourth sailed harmlessly wide. Princeton picked up its play and thwarted several counter attacks from the Panthers in the closing stages.
By virtue of a pair of Adolfo Rosales first-half goals on Aug. 18 at Princeton, the Panthers claimed a 2-0 victory in that affair. And it seemed when the venue switched to North Johnston for the rematch, the Panthers were going to have little trouble from their neighbors.
The Panthers controlled action throughout a majority of the opening half on Monday, then dominated the first six minutes of the second before breaking a scoreless battle.
North delivered body shot after body shot to the Bulldogs, controlling the ball in the Bulldogs’ defensive third for a majority of the first half, only to come up empty.
Shots from Walston, Orosco and Camacho had come close, but had not been able to dent Princeton goal, in part to over-eagerness and others to bad luck.
Camacho saw a golden opportunity go by the boards when he became free on the right side of the field and flowers had come off his line, but pushed the ball wide right of the goal.
Chase Davis hit the left post for North 15 minutes into the match, and the Panthers squandered a 2-on-1 breakaway when they were whistled for being off sides.
“It wasn’t a matter of being overconfident or playing down,” said North coach Jody Edwards. “It was just a case of not finishing tonight. We could have had five or six goals tonight, but we had trouble finishing.”
Despite the onslaught, Princeton kept fighting, possessing the ball past midfield for the first time five minutes into the affair and mounting its first solid possession 12 minutes into the match.
Both coaches said finding chemistry was key for their respective squads, and that despite the outcome, both were pleased with their teams’ efforts.
“I have 16 players out there,” Edwards said. “It’s a matter of finding the right combinations, the chemistry, the gel for the right formula for us. But we need to be able to finish when we have to.”