It took 110 minutes of play and penalty kicks before a winner was decided in the North Johnston boys soccer team’s opening round game of the 2A state playoffs at North Lenoir.
Despite the Panthers (14-8-2) coming up short, falling 4-2 on penalty kicks after each team posted one goal in six periods of play, North Johnston coach Jody Edwards needed very little time in reflection, to see the impact this year’s team has had on the program.
“It’s a group of seniors that I’m very proud of—all six of them,” Edwards said. “They’ve set the bar for next year and they set some good standards. I just want to emphasize the great season that we had. It’s a great group and they will be sorely missed.”
River Adams, Ryan Coley, Mason Cook, Jose Diaz, C.J. Jackson and Chad Little formed the nucleus of the squad that saw its win total grow each year since its sophomore season but was denied in its quest to secure the program’s first playoff victory since 2010.
North Johnston goalkeeper Max Kirby, who came up with 10 huge saves in regulation and overtime, gave the Panthers yet another lift when the contest turned to penalty kicks, stopping the Hawks’ leading goal scorer, Marco Campos, in the first round.
“I was real pleased with Max—I think he’s one of the top keepers in our conference,” Edwards said. “I thought he did well tonight.”
Despite gaining the momentum from Kirby’s initial save and then Ian Walston’s conversion that put North Johnston up 1-0 after the first round, North Lenoir found the back of the net on its next four tries while Hawks’ goalkeeper Jacob Baird turned away the Panthers twice to secure the win.
Braxton Greene’s goal in the fifth round clinched the victory for North Lenoir (12-11-1), which moved on to square off against No. 2-seeded Carrboro in the second round of the playoffs.
The Hawks took the lead in the 11th minute of play as Eric Holloway ran onto the end of a long pass from senior midfielder Michael Bednarz before finishing the chance.
North Johnston came right back and tied the game a little more than five minutes later when River Adams’ hard work to win the ball was rewarded when he pushed the ball forward to Marcos Orozco who beat Baird low and to the far post to tie the game.
For the remainder of the contest, the Panthers had the better of the chances and held the edge in shots on goal as well as corner kicks.
However, North Johnston could not maneuver the ball past North Lenoir’s back four effectively enough as the Hawks played a bunker style of defense and remained entrenched deep in its half of the field for much of the game.
With just over 11 minutes left in the game, Walston managed to beat Baird on a hard shot from inside the penalty area but was denied by the crossbar.
The Panthers controlled the run of play in the overtime session and again came inches short when Walston’s cross to the far post just missed an on-charging Chase Davis with a wide open goal awaiting.
“We had plenty of chances to put it away; we just didn’t finish it,” said Edwards. “We needed some better through balls and needed to take some more shots, especially outside of the 18 (-yard box). Some nights, you just can’t put it in the back of the net.”