Without a conference, a rivalry endures

Published 1:50 pm Friday, August 29, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS PLAY ON: Terra Ceia forward Dawson Cox tracks down Pungo midfielder Jonathan Langley in the first half of Wednesday’s rivalry game.

PLAY ON: Terra Ceia forward Dawson Cox tracks down Pungo midfielder Jonathan Langley in the first half of Wednesday’s rivalry game.

PANTEGO — Without a conference, firm schedule or even the opportunity for a postseason, Beaufort County’s most storied rivalry persists.

Tucked between Terra Ceia Road and a vast bean field — a backdrop Kevin Costner would have envied — the Terra Ceia Knights and Pungo Raiders squared off on Wednesday for the first time this season.

Coinciding with the size of each respective institution, the soccer field is short — the minimum regulation for a high school pitch. It’s an advantage that Terra Ceia head coach Nate Burns builds his team’s possession-based philosophy around.

All logistical shortcomings aside, cars and pickup trucks still piled into the parking lot, some overflowing to the grassy bank on the edge of the road, as they do every time these two teams meet, regardless of the sport or venue.

For Terra Ceia and Pungo to field soccer teams this season, both coaches had to piece together exhibition games against other Christian schools in the area, working within their budget and around their opponent’s conference schedules. The lack of a conference takes away the opportunity for either of these teams to make the playoffs, but passion for the game remains.

To say the Knights and Raiders hate each other would be incorrect, directly going against each of the school’s respective values. To say there’s no other team they would rather beat, well, there’s no arguing that.

Through the first 10 minutes, possession was spit. The Knights kept the pressure on and the Raiders had a couple opportunities at net. Integrated into a three-forward set, Dawson Cox, Kendal Bowen and Ben Hubers worked their way through the defense, keeping Pungo goalie Will Respess on high alert.

Finally, 13 minutes into the first half, Terra Ceia broke the score open on a botched clearance that deflected off freshman Johannes Van Essendelft and into the back of the net.

Freshman Landon Woolard and Jonathan Langley tried to work the ball up the field and provide a response for Pungo, but neither could get a shot past keeper Austin Roscoe. And with 10 minutes to go in the half, Bowen capitalized on a turnover in the box, slipping a shot past Respess to put the Knights up 2-0.

Terra Ceia controlled the possession game throughout the final 40 minutes, staying defensively poised in the 4-3-3 formation and pushing the three midfielder up on the attack. On the first strike of the half, Van Essendelft laid a perfect cross to the foot of Bowen, who tapped it in for an easy goal.

With temperatures in the 90s, exhaustion seemed to set in on both sides, as a handful of players started cramping. Due to the heat, play was halted twice to give the starters a chance to hydrate.

Ten minutes in, Raiders sophomore Archer Johnson hit the ground hard and clutched his shoulder. A sound one fan thought was two cleats clacking together, turned out to be an apparent shoulder injury.

Play continued and the Knights maintained possession. With time running out, Hubers was able to notch two goals — one off a throw in and the other on a through ball — to solidify a 5-0 victory over Pungo.

“We have to make some adjustments to our defense,” said Raiders head coach Robert Spruill. “We left way too much space in that back line and our fullbacks weren’t staying in position. We need to work a little bit harder to take advantage of our set pieces, because I thought we had some really good opportunities off of corner kicks that we didn’t take advantage of.”

For Burns, the victory was a step in the right direction for his team, but he still sees areas that need improvement.

“We need to pass the ball with more accuracy, control the midfield a little better,” he said. “Our team concept is to play tough, strong defense and try to counter attack immediately.”

Pungo will look to pick up win No. 1 on Tuesday when the Raiders face soccer powerhouse Ridgecroft, while Terra Ceia will hope to continue its success when the Knights hosts Trinity. Both games are set to kickoff at 4 p.m.