North Raleigh Christian Academy is in line for new boys soccer jerseys. Another star is needed to place atop the Knights’ logo to mark a second state championship.
After trailing most of the game to the host Wesleyan Christian Trojans out of High Point, North Raleigh Christian scored three times in the game’s final 24 minutes to take the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 3A boys soccer title on Saturday, 3-1 in overtime.
Things looked bleak for NRCA until Alex Lang struck a volley from 22 yards out on an assist from William Welch in the 77th minute. Previously undefeated Wesleyan (18-1-1) had gone up 1-0 in the 43rd minute after a scoreless halftime.
“I just saw the cross in and the header went backwards so I thought I’d take a shot,” said Lange, whose stunning wonder goal came in so quick, from such a sharp angle that the Wesleyan goalkeeper had no play on the ball.
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With Wesleyan reeling, momentum was with the Knights (18-3) for all 20 minutes of overtime.
Wesleyan was called for a handball with two minutes left in the first half of overtime. Jake Strasser, who played a tremendous game at centerback, knocked the penalty down the middle for a 2-1 lead.
“It just shows their character, their fight and grit until the end,” coach Ed Pinion said. “It was unbelievable to come back and tie this thing up and win it 3-1 in overtime. I’m speechless. What a great display of character and attitude and all the things we’ve been talking about all year.”
“They had a really good offense, they knew what they were doing,” Strasser said. “We were just pressuring and covering for each other. We work together, we fight for each other, and I really think that’s what helped us fight against (their attack).”
For good measure, Welch – who was later named to the all-state team – headed in a goal on an Eric Stevens cross with 6 minutes, 30 seconds to go.
It was fitting that Welch get to seal the win. He is the only Knights player who was on the varsity roster when NRCA won the 2013 state title. He didn’t play in the first title, but didn’t come off the field in the second.
“It felt amazing. I’ve never felt anything like it before,” said Welch, whose header into the far netting caught the goalkeeper out of of position. “I remember being here awhile ago, in eighth grade and I didn’t get any playing time. And to now be here ,and be captain of this wonderful team, I can’t ask for anything more.”
The Knights started the year 2-3 before rattling off 16 straight games, but Strasser said it was their second loss of the season that woke everyone up. NRCA was 2-2 after a 3-2 loss to Fayetteville Academy. The Knights’ first loss was to Wesleyan, a 4-2 final that was avenged on Saturday.
“We all just kind of realized we need to step it up because we’re a better team than this and we need to represent our school better than this,” Strasser said.
The Knights will aim for a third star on the jersey next year, and there’s good reason to think they’ll be a contender. This year’s champs had no seniors.