By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Content to weather the storm with a defensive-minded mentality in the first half, Randolph-Macon Academy went into full-on attack mode over the final 40 minutes of Tuesday's boys soccer game against Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy.
The Yellow Jackets shifted from a four-defender alignment to three for the second half, and after enduring pressure from the Patriots, they began to apply it with a pair of second-half goals for a 2-0 victory.
Senior Imran Doraney broke through in the 61st minute for R-MA (3-5) after outrunning an SVCA defender for the ball on teammate Anthony Catalfamo's cross to the middle. Doraney got there first, then pushed a rising shot past oncoming Patriots goalkeeper Madison Brewer to break the scoreless deadlock.
"It was just a foot race with the defender," Doraney said of his first goal this season. "The goalie had to come out and I got it past him."
The Yellow Jackets weren't secure with that one-goal lead, and with good reason. Three times already this season, the team had seen leads evaporate and turn into losses, including two two-goal leads at the beginning of the season.
"When you have a one-goal lead and try to sit back and protect it, you're just asking for trouble," R-MA coach Kerry Hurst said.
Instead, the Yellow Jackets decided to make some trouble by pushing forward its defense to add even more pressure. It worked, as Bryan Mazzola received a centering pass from D'Andre Allen in the 74th minute. Stationed in the penalty box, Mazzola had slipped through the Patriots' defense for a one-on-one opportunity and he took full advantage by slicing a shot past Brewer for the goal.
"It was a great pass," said Mazzola, a junior. "It was the perfect opportunity to actually trap it and shoot."
SVCA (8-3) lost for the second time in as many days, despite having the upper hand on offense in the first half. Three times the Patriots tested Yellow Jackets keeper Jahandar Darvish, and each time he was up to the task.
In the 18th minute, SVCA's Austin Stover uncorked a blast from the top of the penalty area that Darvish blocked for the save. Five minutes later, Nathanael Illsley slipped through to the penalty area for a clean shot from the front, but Darvish responded with a rolling stop for the save. The Patriots' Steven Bell administered one last test in the final minute of the half with a dead-on rising shot from the middle, but Darvish was there once more for the save.
The Patriots outshot R-MA 6-3 in the first half, but were outshot 7-1 over the final 40 minutes.
"We have to play two 40-minute halves of focused soccer, and the last two days we haven't done that," SVCA coach Dustin Wheelock. "I give credit to them -- they made some nice adjustments."
Those adjustments began early for R-MA, which lost starting midfielder Mansur Ahmed for the game in the opening minutes after a nasty collision left him needing stitches in his mouth. But with junior sweeper Benjamin Gillis directing the defense, the Yellow Jackets endured that first-half attack.
Ahmed's absence left R-MA three starters short for the match.
"It actually affected us a lot less than I thought it would," Hurst said. "The team played with a lot more organization than I thought it would considering you lose a player that vital."
Brewer finished with three saves for the Patriots.
"Every great team has to overcome some challenges," Wheelock said. "We have to take these last two games and make the adjustments and grow from it."