Southside fights back to tie on a last-gasp effort, eventually falls in penalty shootout

Published 11:12 pm Friday, November 9, 2018

CHOCOWINITY — Southside treated its fans to a wildly entertaining game last night that saw Research Triangle rally from three goals down to take the lead with 10 minutes remaining in the second half, and three more goals scored in the last six minutes of regulation, including a Seahawk goal in the final seconds to tie Research Triangle at 5-5. But after its late rally, Southside’s playoff run ultimately came to an end after losing in penalty kicks, 4-3.

Despite Southside’s (19-2, 8-0 1A Coastal Plains Conference) season coming to an end, Seahawk head coach Jay Petty couldn’t be happier with his team, which was hindered late in the game when lingering injuries to key players Johnathan Hernandez and Luke Matthews took their toll. But the injuries provided opportunities for younger players, like freshman Victor Gonzalez, who scored one of the late goals that helped Southside rally back.

“They (the Seahawks) did not quit. We came back, played it as hard as we could. I’m just going to tell you right now, the injuries were just creeping back in. That’s what got us tonight. Johnathan was fighting it all night long, I’m not sure if Luke is out again. Just as the night progressed, the injuries that we had time to recover from just slowly crept back in and it began to really affect how we were going forward,” Petty said. “It just made it for a heck of a ball game. I couldn’t be prouder. I hate losing, but I couldn’t be prouder of these kids to take it down to 5-5 and have to lose it in PKs.”

The hero of the night for the Seahawks was Jairo Juarez. He took the final penalty kick, which was saved and sealed the victory for Research Triangle (16-4-2, 9-3 1A Central Tar Heel Conference), but the Seahawks wouldn’t have even reached that point if it wasn’t for the junior’s stellar play.

Juarez helped set the tone for Southside, scoring the opening goal 16 minutes in after the Raptors controlled the run of play for much of the first half. But Juarez, who’s tied for the team lead in assists and has the second-most goals, affected the game in other ways as well. As the Raptors increased the pressure on Southside, Juarez was winning tackles, making defenders miss and providing a vital link from defense to the attack. His ability to maintain possession and move forward was vital to relieving pressure on the Southside backline.

“You don’t run across players very often like Jairo (Juarez), when you look at a player and you go, ‘total package,’” Petty said. “I mean he can do just about everything you need him to do and do it effectively and efficiently. Especially with the injuries to Johnathan and Luke, Jairo just really kind of took over the midfield, took over the attack and really just kind of, definitely kept us going, kept us in this ballgame. I know I had to pull him for a little bit, he started cramping really bad. But, man, I can’t say enough about that kid, because he is the total package when it comes to a soccer player.”

After Juarez’s opening goal, the Raptors pushed forward to get an equalizer, but couldn’t apply the finishing touch, hitting the crossbar at one point. Jaime Guzman made them pay; pouncing on a rebound in the box to give Southside a 2-0 lead with three minutes left in the first half.

The Seahawks quickly pushed their lead to three goals, scoring in the opening minute of the second half. Freshman Bryan Gutierrez Hernandez launched a throw-in into the Raptors’ box, and Trey Branch was on hand to knock the ball home. But Research Triangle showed its mettle, scoring four times in 16 minutes to take a 4-3 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

Southside tied the game with six minutes in regulation left, when the freshman Gonzalez, who saw more playing time with Matthews out hurt, curled a corner kick over the Raptor goalie and into the net, causing the Seahawk fans to erupt. But the Raptors came right back and scored again to take the lead just seconds later.

But the Seahawks, urged on by their raucous fans, didn’t hang their heads and, instead, pushed forward to grab a goal. With 30 seconds left and things looking bleak, Hernandez unleashed one of his trademark long throw-ins into the Research Triangle box and Gutierrez Hernandez knocked it home to tie the game and unleash pandemonium on the Southside bench and in the stands.

“One of the things that I’ve always been proud of (with) this team, especially this group of boys and I’ve had teams in the past that have been this way, is they know you don’t stop until that final whistle, that final buzzer,” Petty said. “The game of soccer, the tide can shift so quick, so fast. And I think they’ve played enough to know you got to keep playing. Don’t quit, don’t give up, weather the storm, and we did. We weathered the storm, came right back, tied this thing up and made it a heck of a ballgame in the end.”