Apex’s boys soccer team had welcomed adversity all year, and for a second it looked like the Cougars had answered the bell again in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys soccer playoffs.
But the Cougars’ game-tying goal attempt was ruled to have not crossed the goal mouth. Apex fell 2-1 to Wilmington’s Laney on Wednesday night, bringing to the No. 1 seed’s season to a close.
“We had our opportunities, we were just unfortunate in not getting players in the right spot for goals,” Apex coach Kevin Todd said. “The game was not decided on that last call right there because you have 79 minutes to do other things.”
Apex (21-2-1) had made a habit of coming back on teams in recent weeks. After their first loss of the season, the Cougars won the next two to clinch the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference title.
In the second round of the playoffs, Apex went to 10 men in the first half, but responded to score two shorthanded goals and knock out 16-seed Middle Creek 3-0.
But No. 8 Laney (18-3-3) kept a good defensive shape and weathered Apex’s close calls.
The Buccaneers went up in the 6th minute, as Laney midfielder David Dailey split the Apex defense in half with a through pass to Wesley Nelson, who took advantage of the 1-v-1 with the goalkeeper and slotted in the first goal.
It was Nelson’s 22nd goal of the year and Dailey’s 17th assist.
Apex evened the score in the 25th minute thanks to Will Tomlinson – the team’s leading scorer who played the first 15 minutes at centerback to help a back line missing a player who picked up a red card against Middle Creek.
Tomlinson helped along a low Cole Pena cross that skidded underneath the Laney goalkeeper, getting a touch on it as it made its way to the net.
But Laney’s Jack Brarens answered one minute later, his set piece skipping by all Apex defenders into the bottom side netting for a 2-1 lead that held the rest of the game.
Apex kept playing in dangerous balls, but Laney turned them away to hold on.
“To their credit, they came right back,” Todd said. “There are certain points in the game where momentum matters a lot, and that was one of them right there.”