By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
QUICKSBURG -- It took 74 minutes before a goal was scored and it proved to be the only goal of the match as Stonewall Jackson senior sub Noah Dodge footed a 3-yarder to the back of the net, past Riverheads keeper R.P. Kirtland on a pass from the right forward by senior Edgar Cardoso.
The 1-0 victory earned the Generals their fourth consecutive Shenandoah District championship.
"Every time I see the ball on the right side, I know to make that run to the far post, and most of my goals this season have come from making that run," Dodge said. "I just saw Edgar right across. I saw him look up right at me, here comes the ball next thing I know, [and] I raised my foot and put it in the back of the net."
Stonewall Jackson (12-1, 11-0 Shenandoah) came in averaging 4.1 goals per game, but showed sluggish offense and hesitant defense in the first half.
Riverheads (7-3-1 overall and district displayed long-range offensive talent when sophomore back Jacob Ritter powered a 40-yard shot in the 12th minute that still had plenty of speed on it when the Generals' 6-foot-2 keeper, Ryan Zirkle, stretched to his left to tap it wide of the frame.
The most powerful shots on goal for Stonewall Jackson in the first half were launched by middle Jonas Jacuinde, with an unmolested 10-yarder in the eighth minute, and a 7-yard kick off a rebound in the 17th minute.
One of the most dramatic shots of the first half was when the Gladiators' Ryan Kibler got his foot on the ball seven yards out and keeper Zirkle closed on him. Kibler leapt just after shooting and tumbled into Kibler in a somersault, and the shot went wide left.
After halftime, Stonewall Jackson played more like the high-scoring, one-loss squad their record reflected.
Riverheads wasn't able to get off a shot on goal until 11 minutes had ticked off the game clock, while the Generals had pulled the trigger three times by then.
Edgar Cardoso took Stonewall Jackson coach Nate Hissong's halftime instructions to heart.
"[Hissong said] 'Go out hard, because they're coming at you hard and we need to win this game to win the district,'" Edgar Cardoso said. "They actually kept pressure on us most of the first half and we were the ones that were losing the momentum. [Hissong] said, 'Try to pick up the momentum and make it go our way,' and we just came out hard."
The Generals switched into high offensive gear, with better communication and quicker defense that resulted in a 12-2 shot advantage, plus a penalty kick.
One of those Riverheads shots was another artillery blast by Ritter, this time from 25 yards in the 54th minute. Just like his first-half blast, this one sped toward the goal with force and Zirkle had to lay flat-out to his right to deflect it wide of the net.
"[Ritter] does have the green light [for long shots], but that green light didn't really come up until today," Riverheads coach Mark Husband said. "We're constantly learning more. We've got such a young team. Thirteen of our 23 are sophomores. So we're constantly learning about our guys and trying to get better.
"We felt good about the way we performed in the first half. We wish would have taken advantage of a couple of those opportunities. A couple [of our shots] were mere inches from going in and it could have been a different game at that point. Our defense, especially our goalie, R.P. [Kirtland], really our entire defense has stepped up their game in the last three matches. Our guys really worked their tails off.
"[Stonewall Jackson] is the team we want to compare ourselves to. We're getting better and that's all I can ask from my guys."
Stonewall Jackson won the first match against Riverheads, 5-2, on April 5.
"[This] one seals the district title for us," Hissong said. "An amazing game. Riverheads had always been our main competition in the district. We thought it would be Wilson [Memorial] this year, but it turned our to be Riverheads.
"Noah Dodge, unlikely hero, with five goals in his senior year, and two seniors connecting to win the district title. You can't write a better story than that."