The third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association boys soccer tournament is a time when The News and Observer’s remaining ranked teams must eat their own to survive and advance.
That was the case in the 3A East regional semifinals as No. 4-ranked Lee County, the 3-seed in the bracket, edged No. 3 Chapel Hill, the 6-seed, 3-2 on Wednesday night at the Yellow Jackets’ field.
The teams were tied 2-2 until Yellow Jackets junior forward Omar Reyes scored with 39.7 seconds to play. He converted a header on a corner throw-in.
“One of my teammates missed it,” Reyes explained. “It slid off the top of his head. I was behind him and was able to head it in. I couldn’t believe it. That’s never happened to me. It was two good teams that played hard. We were tired at the end, but we didn’t want to go to overtime.”
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Lee County (23-3-1) continues one of its most successful years in school history with a fourth-round game at No. 2 seed Swansboro on Saturday. Chapel Hill’s season ends at 17-3-3.
“I want to thank our seniors for the great season they had,” said Chapel Hill coach Jason Curtis after hugs with his players. “They worked hard all year to put together a good run.”
Lee County survived with the benefit of a last-minute goal in both halves.
Chapel Hill led 2-0 lead on scores by senior Blake Johnson and junior Paul McLaughlin. Johnson scored first from the left side with 25:10 left in the first half on an assist from McLaughlin. They switched roles six minutes later when McLaughlin scored and Johnson assisted.
The 2-0 lead suddenly evaporated into 2-1 at intermission when Lee County’s Ivan Mireles converted a penalty kick with 40 seconds left in the first half.
The tight competition included a mystery goal by Lee County’s Jose Aguirre to tie the match 2-2 with 27 minutes to play. Tyler Underwood threw the ball in from 20 yards out on the left sideline and the ball bounded in.
Even the Yellow Jackets were initially unsure who scored. Chapel Hill’s bench protested the ball was untouched, but the officials ruled Aguirre got his leg on it.
“They were trying to mark the right guy,” Aguirre said. “I was on the inside. I saw the ball and stuck my leg out. The ball slid off it.”
Aguirre was sheepish in explaining how he scored such a crucial goal, adding, “That’s the easiest goal I ever scored.”