Green Hope breathed a collective sigh of relief after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over conference foe Middle Creek in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys’ soccer playoffs on Tuesday night at Falcons Stadium.
The Falcons, 24-1 and No. 1 in The News & Observer rankings, got an early goal from Jonah Murrane but had to sweat the remaining 78 minutes. Green Hope had beaten its Southwest Wake Athletic Conference rival 6-2 and 7-1 this season, but the Mustangs (14-8-1) stepped up their game.
Middle Creek appeared to have tied the game in the78th minute, but the referee ruled that the ball was illegally kicked when Falcons keeper Mason Zlotnik had it trapped between his hand and the ground.
“I guess (we) dodged the bullet,” Falcons coach David Corsbie said. “It was an ugly game. We didn’t play our style of ball, and they had a good gameplan and made adjustments. They were a different style team than what we saw this season.”
The Falcons host Millbrook on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the third round.
Middle Creek coach Guy Coleman decided to play a defensive game, hoping to take the contest to overtime and perhaps penalty kicks. The Mustangs limited Green Hope’s chances, and keeper Cameron Cornwell played well, often punching out shots in traffic.
“We executed our gameplan as best we could,” Mustang striker Chris Wallace said. “We really prepared for this game. It really helped us. Unfortunately, we let one goal slip up, but other than that, I don’t think we gave up any real opportunities.”
The first chance of the game led to the first goal. After a long throw-in, Connor Munz made a nice touch pass to Murrane, who dumped it in the net. Wallace’s throw-in in the 31st minute went into the net, but since no one touched the ball, that goal wasn’t allowed.
Green Hope played its game in the first half, keeping possession and passing well. The Mustangs picked up the tempo in the second half, pushing forward and getting several chances.
“On counterattacks, we were great,” Wallace said. “We did get a few chances off bad touches by (Green Hope). We capitalized on those, took the ball from them and got up the field. Unfortunately, my free kicks were really off tonight. … I should’ve definitely had at least one easy goal.”
Though there were no moral victories for Middle Creek, the Mustangs still managed to reach the second round of the state playoffs, overcoming a four-game losing streak earlier this year.
“We had a successful season, I’d say,” Coleman said. “We had a tough middle of our season, but we finished well and started to really jell, which is always a good thing. We had a winning year, third place in the conference. We really wanted to go farther.”
The Falcons, of course, want to go farther, too, but they’ll need to play better. Of the three points of emphasis from Corsbie – containing Wallace, being disciplined with set pieces and throw-ins and playing their best individually and collectively – only one was accomplished: Keeping Wallace tied up.
“Minus a couple players who played well and gave it everything they had,” Corsbie said, “I think probably everybody can go home tonight thinking they could’ve done something better.”
One of those players was defender Billy McLaughlin, who helped thwart several Middle Creek runs by kicking the ball away or taking possession. Without him, Green Hope could’ve been looking at the end of its season.
Instead, the Falcons look ahead to Millbrook.
“There’s always a bad game that a team survives,” Corsbie said of playoff runs across sports. “Hopefully this is the one game that we played poorly and survived – and we continue to play better after this.”