Neither a county or a conference title, nor even a post-season playoff berth was on the line.
But the rivalry that is Smithfield-Selma vs. Clayton didn't miss a beat as is their tradition, with neither side giving a quarter until the Comets walked off the pitch with a hard-earned, 2-1 victory.
Members of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, the Comets moved to 3-0 on the season when senior Alex Owens finished on a throw in by Shawn Kimball with 9:54 to play, snapping a 1-1 standoff.
Owens, who was disappointed in his play in first half, was switched to the left side of the field at the start of the second half by Comets coach William Williams. It was one of a few personnel moves Clayton made in an effort to jumpstart the Clayton offense.
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“There is a lot of pressure when you are playing a big rival," Williams said. "Even though we are not in the same conference, that doesn't mean anything.
Both teams played like the game meant everything and Smithfield-Selma grabbed the early momentum when Rodrigo Sanchez bent in a free kick from just beyond the upper left corner of the box past Comets keeper Jackson Keener 11 minutes into the game.
Energized by that goal, the Spartans of the Two Rivers 3A Conference, came close to extending the margin to 2-0 when Keener deflected a 30-yard direct kick by Whitney Stevens inches over the cross bar.
The Spartans, who slipped to 1-3 overall, kept up the pressure, managing six shots on goal in the halt, only to come up empty. Also hampering the Spartans were three offsides calls in the half, and seven in the game.
“That came from their (Spartans) aggressiveness," Williams said. "We don't use an offsides trap, and we were called for being offsides as well (five times), and we definitely were."
Smithfield-Selma coach Renato Frietas said the violations were a case of the Spartans not communicating among themselves.
"The passion was there, we just need to channel the passion the right way,” Frietas said. “I thought we had more possession game pace, putting the ball on the ground, but we were unlucky
“We talked to the forwards, and I think it was laziness, bad communication. We need to fix it and we need to fix it quick.”
Reinvigorated by Keener's save, Clayton picked up its game and leveled the score on a corner kick that sailed through the box. That ball was controlled by Kimball, sending a pass to Brandon Sainz, who blasted the ball past Spartans keeper Alfredo Martinez with 21:18 left in the half for the 1-1 standoff at intermission.
While both teams enjoyed its periods of sustained attacks, the Comets enjoyed the upper hand until the break, when the Spartans' Kenny Pavon narrowly missed a left-to-right shot on goal in the final seconds of the half.
But the body language of the Comets during the break had Williams perplexed.
“At halftime the boys acted like we were losing," Williams said, “even after getting the tying score. We should have acted like we had the momentum.”
The Comets came out flat, weathering a 10-minute surge by the Spartans before gaining their second wind, and eventually the win.
Clayton outshot SSS, 10-9, in the contest, but was whistled for 11 fouls compared to five for Smithfield-Selma, while the Spartans held a 7-1 advantage in corners.