Austin Stephens was accurate on free kicks just outside the box twice, once going left and once going right.
And the two easy goals made the difference for West Johnston on Wednesday night as the Wildcats squeaked out a 3-2 overtime soccer win over visiting conference rival East Wake.
The result improved West to 4-4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Greater Neuse River 4A, while East fell to 2-7 and 0-3.
“Every win is big,” said first-year West coach Luke Waddell. “This conference is even and it’s going to be fun all year. I’m just happy we have 18 boys who can play and keep up a high level of intensity. That’s a gift we have. Our back line was strong tonight, but we’re still conceding more goals than we need to be giving up.”
The teams were tied 1-1 at halftime. Levi Martin scored from the left doorstep on a cross from Tristen Cullison to give West the lead in the 12th minute. And then Garrett Johnson tallied off Eric Laredo’s corner kick to level it in the 31st minute.
Laredo scored on an unassisted run in the 63rd minute before West’s Stephens tied it on a free kick six minutes later.
Stephens then got the winner on another close free kick in the 86th.
They said it
“We had to come back from behind to tie them,” said veteran East Wake coach Michael Howes. “I was very disappointed. I really felt like we should have been going home (after regulation), but we’re going home after our second 3-2 overtime loss. Both those free kicks were like penalty shots and all we could do was stand there in a wall.”
Three who mattered
Austin Stephens, West Johnston: The junior striker scored the tying goal in regulation and the winner in the first overtime on 20-yard free kicks.
“I just found where the goalie wasn’t and put it in the goal,” Stephens said. “I thought East’s defense was real strong and we had to work hard for our goals.”
Eric Laredo, East Wake: The senior striker assisted on a goal in the first half and scored an unassisted goal on an athletic run early in the second.
“We played good,” Laredo said. “We had more ball control in the second half. They got two goals on those free kicks and that was tough. We’ve just got to keep training and telling ourselves we can do better.”
Levi Martin, West Johnston: The junior midfielder scored the game’s first goal.
“It was a physical game and they were a strong team,” Martin said. “I’m glad we were able to come back and get it into overtime. We’re doing a good job with quick passing and also with finishing.”
By the numbers
3: Points for East’s Laredo.
4: Points for Stephens, who has 14 on the season with six goals and two assists.
8: Saves for both goalies, West’s Jake Maloney and East Wake’s Daniel Ibara.
West visits Harnett Central on Monday before hosting county rival Clayton on Wednesday.
East Wake’s next game is home against Rolesville.
The rematch is on Oct. 12 in Wendell.