East Wake’s storybook season began with a loss to Broughton, but it certainly won’t end that way.
Instead, the upstart Warriors continued their unexpected surge with a 3-2 home victory over the tradition-rich Caps in Tuesday’s second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys soccer playoffs at Johnny Sasser Stadium.
East Wake, seeded third, will carry a 16-6-2 record into Thursday’s third-round matchup at home versus Wilmington’s Ashley High. The 11th-seeded Caps, who reached the fourth round of the postseason in 2015, closed at 15-7-2 under first-year head coach Craig Brannan.
“This was probably one of the biggest wins in the soccer history of our school,” said East Wake senior defender Garrett Johnson.
The Warriors weren’t considered a potential deep playoff threat before the season – and did nothing early on to dispel that notion.
East Wake started with an opening setback against the Caps, albeit by a tight one-goal margin. The Warriors dropped three of their first four matches before getting off to a slow start in Greater Neuse River Conference play.
But coach Jon Hasbrouck’s club hasn’t lost in regulation since Sept. 7, and East Wake has rattled off nine consecutive triumphs – a stretch that helped the Warriors wrap up the GNRC crown in comeback fashion.
“We are vastly improved since the beginning of the season,” said Warriors’ senior forward Vicente Gallardo, who offered two goals and one assist as part of Tuesday’s victory. “Once we saw what we were capable of as a team, our work ethic just kept getting better.”
Still, it was a leap of faith for the Warriors to believe they could topple Broughton, which boasts state championships in 2006 and 2007 as part of its strong boys soccer resumé.
But East Wake gained some confidence when Gallardo took a throw-in from Khadeem Dublin and headed the ball into the net at the 29:58 mark of the opening half.
Just over 13 minutes later, Gallardo gained possession on a two-on-one and made a nifty pass to Elvin Lazo, whose redirect pushed the Warriors ahead by a stunning 2-0 margin.
East Wake added to its cushion just over 11 minutes into the second half off a set piece from 40 yards out as Johnson sent a ball into the box, where Gallardo once again used his size for a header that touched the twine to give the Warriors a commanding three-goal advantage.
The expected Broughton push finally came over the final 20 minutes, thanks in part to some strong midfield work, especially from Abdulle Ibrahim. But East Wake’s Migel Valdivia came up with a series of saves before the Caps broke through with goals from Graham Gunter and Lucas Beeson over the closing minute.
The last goal from Gunter came at the 22-second mark, so the Caps didn’t have time to get another quality scoring opportunity for the potential equalizer.
“The end of the match was terrible,” Johnson said. “Broughton started scoring, and it made us nervous. It was a good thing we had built that 3-2 lead.”
Said Hasbrouck: “Things changed after we went ahead by three goals. We were fortunate to hang on.”
The young Caps, after a fourth-place regular season finish in the Cap-8 Conference, seemed to have found their stride during a first-round conquest versus Cardinal Gibbons -- another program with a rich soccer history.
But Broughton couldn’t dig out of its early hole Tuesday despite its furious flurry down the stretch.
“Coming into the second half, we needed to get that first goal, and it didn’t happen,” Brannan said. “That made it a big challenge, but our guys didn’t give up. You can’t say that we didn’t give everything we could. We just got beaten by a team that made more plays than us. We came up short (Tuesday), but we had a lot of positive things happen this season. We had hoped to make a (playoff) run, but we ran into a team that hadn’t lost in awhile.”
While Broughton’s campaign ended earlier than usual, the Warriors continue to defy expectations by making the third round for the first time since 2011.
“You look at Broughton’s tradition and strength of schedule, and I guess you could call this an upset,’’ Hasbrouck said. “But we have battled going back to when we were 3-2-2 in the conference. We knew we had to finish strong to make the playoffs. Then, we had a chance to win the (GNRC) championship, and we did that. For awhile, we have played every game like it was our last.’’
Said Gallardo: “We feel like underdogs, and we kind of like it. We like taking people by surprise. We know people hear about East Wake and they ask ‘who is that?’”