By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- If it wasn't enough for Clarke County's boys soccer team to have to travel 70 miles for its match in the Region B Tournament quarterfinals, imagine having to travel all that way to face a team that had beaten them twice in the regular season and was 18-0 going into the game.
The Eagles faced just that when they stepped onto the field at Stonewall Jackson on Monday night, and they responded with a stunning 3-0 win over the Generals.
"I really have to tip my hat to the guys on this team," Clarke County coach Andrew Porter said. "Stonewall Jackson has one of the best teams in the state, and we fought our hearts out and got the win."
For the Generals, who looked as though they were on their way to challenging for a state title, it was a crushing loss.
"This is devastating," Stonewall coach Marshall Howser said. "I really thought that it was just a case of nerves. The pressure this team was under played to Clarke County's advantage."
The tension was almost overwhelming as the teams took the field, and from the beginning the Generals attacked the Eagles' goal relentlessly. Using crisp passes between midfielder Patrick Bain and forwards Juan Luna and Caleb Golladay, Stonewall pressured the Clarke County goal almost the entire game.
Three times over a period of four minutes, the Generals came within inches of scoring only to watch Eagles goalkeeper Zac Rogers make the save.
The Generals took 11 shots in the first half, and Rogers saved seven of them to help keep the game scoreless.
"It's always like that in games like these," Rogers said. "It might not look that way, but the pressure is always there when you're in tournament play."
Then, suddenly, everything changed.
Clarke County, which had its share of opportunities, took advantage of one of them. With 10 minutes to go in the first half, Josh Petti found Ben Marshall open in the penalty area and hit him with a perfect pass. Marshall did the rest, putting the ball in the net from 10 yards out to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
"We were moving the ball around looking for an opening," Marshall said. "Josh squeezed the ball through their defense, and when I got it I saw an open net. I just put it in."
If that goal wasn't enough of a stunner, Matt Moyer's goal to begin the second half gave the Eagles a shocking 2-0 lead. The Clarke County junior took a pass from Marshall and volleyed it into the net just one minute into the second half.
For the next 30 minutes, the Generals launched a furious attack on the Eagle goal, but were matched by an equally furious defensive effort by Clarke County.
Stonewall took 14 second-half shots, forcing Rogers to make another six difficult saves. It wasn't just Rogers that was under constant pressure, but the entire Clarke County defense.
"They are a very strong team," Eagles sweeper Dylan Cherrix said. "Our win against George Mason last week really gave us a lot of confidence. Zac had a terrific game, and we were able to hold strong."
One tactic that Clarke County used was putting center back Davey Hardesty on Golladay. Although the Generals forward had his share of shots, none got past the Eagles' defense.
"We put Davey on George Mason's top scorer and he was able to shut him down," Cherrix said. "That worked against Mason and it worked against Stonewall, too."
Despite being unable to get past the Eagles' defense, Stonewall pressed hard until Petti decided to try something that even the referee thought was unwise.
With about 10 minutes left in the game, Petti lined up for a free kick about 45 yards from the Stonewall Jackson goal.
"It didn't look like they were expecting me to go for it," Petti said. "So I told my teammates that I was going to bang away and see what happened. Even the referee looked at me as though I was crazy. I just hit it and it went in."
Petti sailed a high ball that somehow got into the Generals' net, giving Clarke County a commanding 3-0 lead. That effectively finished off the Generals in the regionals, but it couldn't erase the fact that Stonewall's seniors have had one of the most successful runs in recent history.
"These seniors have had an extraordinary career," Howser said. "They're the most successful class in the school's history -- two district championships and only four losses in three years."