Garner Cleveland: Sports

Clayton tops Southeast Raleigh behind Jones brothers’ timely efforts

Brothers Chase and Connor Jones were in the right place at the right time for the Clayton soccer team Monday night.

The Jones brothers each had a second-half header to lift the Comets to a 3-1 victory over Southeast Raleigh in a battle for second place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.

Clayton (11-3-1, 6-1 GNRC) had to overcome a mistake in the opening seconds that allowed Southeast Raleigh (8-4, 6-2) to score a goal and tie the score at 1-1.

Two Comets went for the ball after the second-half faceoff but Southeast Raleigh’s Fred Nafukho came up with the ball and streaked downfield on a breakaway with teammate Jesus Cardenas. Nafukho slipped a pass to Cardenas on the left side of the box and he drilled a shot past Clayton keeper Jackson Keener just 22 seconds into the second half.

“We talked at halftime and said, ‘We’ve got to start out strong. They are not going to give up.’ And they score in 20 seconds,” Clayton coach William Williams said. “I didn’t say anything. I just walked down there. They knew what was going through my mind.

“After about five minutes, I said, ‘That was your one mistake. Don’t make any more.’ ”

The Comets regrouped and kept the pressure on the Bulldogs, keeping the ball in Southeast’s end for much of the second half and getting numerous corner kicks and free kicks.

“If anything, it energized us,” Williams said of the tying goal.

The Comets took the lead in the 55th minute when Connor Jones, a sophomore, had a free kick from just inside the right side of the box after a foul. His arching kick found his senior brother, Chase, at the left post and he headed the ball past Southeast keeper Eric Noden.

At 5-feet-6, Chase Jones doesn’t tower over the crowd in front of the goal. But he was in the perfect position for the pass from his brother.

“I try to play back post every time so they know where to find me,” Chase Jones said. “Everybody played a pretty decent game tonight and it was a great win.

“We finally settled down in the second half and played our game, which is pass and spread the field. We did a great job. That is what gave us our victory tonight.”

Connor Jones scored an insurance goal in the 62nd minute. The Comets had a corner kick from the left side – one of seven corners for the Comets in the second half. Brandon Sainz, who had limped off the field earlier in the second half after a hard hit while trying to score, was back on the field and made a looping corner toward the right post.

Jones was there among several Comets and headed the ball into the net to make it 3-1.

“Brandon made a great cross,” Connor Jones said. “If you get the cross over the goalie, he has to turn his back and you are on the back post. If you hit it to the other post you get a goal every time.

“Height doesn’t matter.”

Clayton took a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute when Connor Jones had the ball in the left corner and dribbled past several Bulldogs on the baseline. He went to the middle and smacked a shot off the right post. Daniel Alioto was in perfect position for the rebound and slipped it into the left corner of the net.

After the quick-strike goal by Southeast in the first minute of the second half, Clayton played its game of possession and passing. The result was two straight goals and a big win for the Comets, who have lost only to first-place Garner in the conference.

“When we score, we move the ball and get corners,” Williams said. “That is our game. You beat a good team by moving the ball. That’s what we have to do.”

Southeast Raleigh is an improved team this season under first-year coach Michael Michalakis.

“I think my guys played pretty well, particularly in the first half,” Michalakis said. “Clayton has a well-organized, well-coached team. … After we scored that second-half goal, we had a one-on-one chance but didn’t capitalize on it. Then our back third became a little passive and they scored a goal.

“The momentum went over to Clayton and they controlled the game (the rest of the way).”

The Bulldogs won just two games a year ago, but are battling for a playoff spot this season.

“My team, even though we have a good amount of seniors, it’s still a young team,” Michalakis said. “They are trying to figure out the way to play the game under my coaching and my philosophy. They have improved a lot since last year.”