The Chapel Hill boys soccer team is one game from an unbeaten season and state title – against 3A competition, that is.
The Tigers defeated Terry Sanford of Fayetteville 2-1 Tuesday at home to win the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A East Regional final. They advanced to the state championship on Saturday at N.C. State, 2 p.m. against Marvin Ridge.
Chapel Hill’s record is now 24-2 with its only losses to two 4A schools, Cardinal Gibbons in August and to East Chapel Hill in the second of two non-conference meetings with its crosstown rival. Terry Sanford finished with a 19-4-1 record.
All the scoring was in the in the first half of a physical contest throughout. Chapel Hill overcame Terry Sanford’s defense with two corners kicks.
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Senior Paul McLaughlin tapped in the first score off his heel, assist by senior Ryan Shaffei, with 15:11 left in the first half. Terry Sanford tied the match less than two minutes later on a free kick after a handball gave James Smith a shot from 15 yards out. The ball deflected off the Chapel Hill wall into the net.
A 1-1 halftime score seemed certain, but Chapel Hill converted another corner with 1:45 until intermission. Senior Sam Linker served and senior Oliver Reuland converted a header in open space.
“We’re a tall team so we’re dangerous on corners,” Reuland said. “We knew their keeper was shying toward the near post. We wanted to send it to the back post. I wasn’t marked so I had an open header. They were screaming someone mark No. 2, but no one came on me.”
Chapel Hill cruised through the first three rounds with a 17-1 scoring advantage, but the Tigers have had to demonstrate poise under pressure to reach their first state final since 2009 and a chance for their first state championship since 1983.
In Saturday’s fourth round, Chapel Hill won 1-0 over Southern Lee on a 41-degree night. On Tuesday, the temperature was a “toasty” 48 with the fog rolling in for the second half.
Terry Sanford played a man down with 9:31 left in the game when Tucker Godwin was sent to the sideline for a red card. The Bulldogs played the final 1:05 two men down when the aforementioned Smith received a red card.
“When they’re playing physical and coming hard at you, they want to get in your head,” Reuland said. “We have to stay composed and not retaliate after a tackle. I’m proud of my team for the way we played.”
Chapel Hill had two near-goals on free kicks midway through the second half. Linker’s shot hit the left post and skipped away. Shaffei’s was an odd near-miss. He also hit the left post, but on the inside. It bounced across the goal to the right post and then away.
But two goals turned out to be enough.
“We have 12 seniors on this team,” Chapel Hill coach Jake Curtis said. “It’s a really good group.”