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By Danny Nolan - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- The Shenandoah District boys soccer tournament final between Central and Stonewall Jackson lived up to the hype Wednesday night -- so much so, the intensity in the stadium may as well have been palpable.
After a late stand by the defense, the Generals won their third straight championship in front of the home crowd by a 2-1 margin.
Coming into the contest, Stonewall Jackson had won both previous meetings against the Falcons, one without Generals star player Juan Luna.
Luna, rewarded with first-team all-Shenandoah District honors after the game, made his presence known very early on, scoring the first goal of the evening only four minutes into the contest.
"We just wanted to come out and score goals quick and give us the momentum," Luna said. "We knew if they had the first goal, it would put pressure on us."
Forced to recover quickly, Central took control of possession for much of the remainder of the half, finding very few opportunities to take shots on goal. Just as the Falcons seemed to be finding their rhythm, the Generals stormed down the field. And after some quick moves in the open field, Roberto Cardoso punched in another goal in the 29th minute to give the Generals a 2-0 advantage.
Stonewall Jackson took control of the ball on the ensuing kickoff and almost scored again only a minute later, but Central goalkeeper Jordan Umstead kept the threat at bay.
The key to the game may have been the defensive effort put forth by the Generals to shut down the Falcons' Marshal Brill and Stephen Hamrick. The top two goal scorers in the area had trouble finding an opportunity all night, and Hamrick showed signs of frustration throughout the contest. The sophomore didn't appear to find a good shot on goal until the end of the first half.
Stonewall Jackson coach Nate Hissong said that stopping the two forwards was a key coming into the final.
"[Central has two] legitimate scoring threats with Hamrick and Brill," Hissong said. "We did our best to shut them down, and I think it worked."
Stonewall Jackson and Central both came out with defensive tenacity in the second half, setting the tone for a physical finish. In the 52nd minute, the Falcons had three consecutive corner kicks. The first and second attempts were stopped by Stonewall goalie Eustergio Cruz-Cortes, but the third was finally cleared by the Generals to complete a critical defensive stop.
More physical play followed, with both teams not giving an inch on defense. It looked like no more goals would be scored until Brill was fouled with only three minutes remaining, setting up a penalty kick that the Central forward converted for a late goal.
The final three minutes were pure mayhem, with every player on the field scrambling for possession of the ball. With 70 seconds left, Hamrick saw the ball in the air and attempted a header that just went over the goal.
Stonewall Jackson ran the remaining time out, securing its third straight district tournament title. Hissong knew that the competition would be up for the challenge and was thankful that his team pulled out a victory.
"These games have always been pretty close," Hissong said. "They put us under a lot of pressure and they made it hard for us. I'm proud of these kids."