Soccer is sometimes an unfair sport, and the end of Chapel Hill’s season was a cruel one.
A lone converted penalty in the first half of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A boys soccer championship was the deciding factor as Chapel Hill fell to Marvin Ridge 1-0 Saturday at N.C. State’s Dail Soccer Field.
Marvin Ridge (24-3) went up in the 39th minute, just before halftime, as Brandon Young converted a penalty try. The Mavericks’ Matt Winesette drew the foul after beating Chapel Hill (24-3) defender Brendan Holly to an errant back pass.
When Winesette got control of the ball, Holly fell back into him. An official told Chapel Hill coach Jason Curtis that it was an elbow to the neck that prompted the PK call.
Young’s PK went into to the upper right-hand corner.
“It’s a tough call. The referee said the elbow was in the neck area. I don’t know, I didn’t see it like that,” Curtis said.
It was a devastating blow for a team that had controlled the run of play and most of the possession all half. Marvin Ridge had two clear shots on counters that were saved by goalkeeper Aidan McCormick, but the Tigers were doing everything but putting the ball in the net.
Justin Mecham’s rocket free kick was parried away by Marvin Ridge goalkeeper Tyler Fant. The Tigers kept him busy.
“It’s a tough lesson – I’m not sure what that lesson is,” Curtis said.
He continued: “By far I think we had more chances, and I’m not saying that as sour grapes. (Marvin Ridge) defended well, they capitalized on their chance and we did not. They’re a worthy champion and hats off to them.”
With wind gusts of around 40 miles per hour, both teams struggled to find the right touch on long passes.
In the first half, an NCHSAA tent blew onto the playing surface.
In the second half, a Marvin Ridge player skied a ball that was heading for the top row of the bleachers behind goal, but the wind slowed it down and dropped it just over the end line.
“(The wind) was on and off all day long so you really couldn’t tell (how hard it was blowing) when you were hitting long balls, which is why they were having a lot of trouble on goal kicks – which we tried to take advantage of but couldn’t,” said Sam Linker, one of 12 seniors.
After halftime, Chapel Hill peppered the Marvin Ridge goal even more, but the Mavs responded and began threatening the Tigers as well. With the lead, they were calmer on the ball than in the first half and began making runs at goal.
But Chapel Hill still had the best chances. A free kick by Mecham hit the right post.
The referee stopped the game with two seconds left as Chapel Hill set up a final corner kick attempt because the ball kept blowing away from its spot. The corner kick sailed over the box without meeting anyone, and the Tigers players hit the ground in anguish.
“I’m so proud of our players. These seniors, I’ve known them for a long time. I told them in 40 years they’ll still be talking about this and the good stuff will just remain. The bad taste will go away,” Curtis said. “You’ll still have that tinge of regret because you didn’t finish it, but it’s still been a (heck) of a journey, and I wouldn’t trade it. I just wish I could take that pain away for them, but they’re a resilient bunch, a great group of guys.”
Chapel Hill was aiming for its fourth state championship. The Tigers won it all in 1972, 1974 and 1983. Chapel Hill also lost to Marvin Ridge in the 2009 title, 2-1 in sudden-death overtime.