By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- Stonewall Jackson senior Dylan Dawson stood on the Generals sideline, the final minutes of a 6-1 win over Central spilling off the scoreboard.
Generals senior Caleb Golladay had just allowed a Central clear from Stonewall Jackson's offensive third, so Dawson shot Golladay a slight jest.
"You're slow, Caleb," Dawson bantered.
Golladay turned, smiled. Three fingers sprouted from his left hand.
Indeed: Golladay had just splashed a hat trick on Central, affording him at least one leisurely play Tuesday night.
Golladay now has 17 goals and nine assists, ranking him first in the area in both categories.
"He's been doing a lot of work," Stonewall Jackson senior Patrick Bain said. "He's moving off the ball, and he can't miss right now.
"If he shoots it and it goes on frame, it's going in."
Which comes as a relief to the Generals, who came into this season wondering if they could replace the 33 goals scored by Armando Moreno last season. And for that reason, Golladay's recent shows have recalled the memories of seasons past.
In 2005, Stonewall Jackson graduated Charles Metz and his 35 goals. The following season, Ben Young surprised and delighted the Stonewall Jackson faithful with 29 goals of his own.
History has a splendid way of repeating itself.
"Truthfully, I think from the beginning of the season until now I've definitely changed my style of play," Golladay explained. "A lot of times we've been playing over the head -- long balls -- but now we're trying to move through-balls and go to our feet, and that's been working really well."
And to be fair, Golladay's individual rewards are largely the result of the Generals' team-wide efforts. Ever since a 2-1 win over Spotswood on March 8, Stonewall Jackson has sported a 3-5-2 formation, primarily to account for a sprained ankle Bain suffered in an early March practice.
Without the versatility of Bain as a holding midfielder, Generals coach Nate Hissong elected to make his team more versatile itself.
With five midfielders rollicking on the halfway line, Golladay's through-balls are coming more often, and from a variety of directions.
"We definitely get a lot more possession," Golladay said, "and having that extra guy in the mid definitely helps because we've got a stronger attack."
The added midfielder also put less pressure on Bain: Rather than tackling in the defensive third and putting more stress on his hampered ankle, he can simply create in the Generals' offensive third, as he did Tuesday.
Standing on the top of the penalty box in the 11th minute, Bain dinked a pass up to senior Colton Koontz, who launched a goal into the top right corner. In the 39th minute, Bain swirled through a couple step-overs, drawing a double team in the process, then placed a through-ball at Golladay's feet at the six. Golladay played the ball to the right, then smashed his second goal of the night into the goal's left cheek.
Goals by Golladay, Koontz and Juan Luna, all inside the first 19 minutes, forced Central to play aggressively, and remain as such.
Falcons coach Ted Poor pushed his defense up, and in the 24th minute, Marshall Brill squeezed a 35-yard shot into the goal's top left corner. Brill, with four shots, was the only Central player to take more than one shot.
Which isn't to say Central didn't have its opportunities: The Falcons possessed the ball for the better part of the final 10 minutes of the match.
"The guys are learning that possessing the ball is an important part of the game," Poor said. "And I was pleased with the way they did it -- we don't quit.
"We had a couple decent opportunities at the end -- it would have been nice if we put one or two of them in -- but that's the way soccer goes."