By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- There was much to like about Skyline's offensive showing in Thursday's opening round of the Northwestern District boys soccer tournament.
There was twice as much -- plus one -- to like about James Wood's offense, though. The fourth-seeded Colonels took full advantage of their speed superiority to overwhelm the counter-attacking Hawks for a 7-3 victory and earn a spot in Saturday's semifinals against top-seeded Sherando.
Tommy Houser and Michael Carter each recorded their first career hat tricks in the victory for James Wood (7-9-1), with much of that scoring punch coming on through balls that turned into one-on-one opportunities against overworked Hawks goalkeeper James Clatterbuck.
"We like to possess the ball, we like to move it around, but I guess when it's that obvious that we can just go and take it up top then we're going to do that," James Wood coach Matt Dunsmore said. "It's not always the prettiest, but that's what they want to do and it creates a lot of chances."
The chances came early and often for the Colonels, and Houser converted one off an assist by Brandon Jones just minutes into the game.
The Colonels went up 2-0 with 15:57 left when Ryland Williams headed in a goal off throw-in that sailed into the penalty box.
Carter got into the scoring act with 6:12 left in the half, gathering in a through ball before slipping past a Skyline defender and ripping a shot into the right corner for his first goal.
"I got a lot of through-ball opportunities from my teammates," Carter said. "They definitely passed the ball really well. We got it up, we got numbers in and we got goals."
Skyline (4-13) created plenty of scoring opportunities in the first half, but had nothing to show for it after 40 minutes. The closest the Hawks came to breaking up the shutout in the first half came with just more than three minutes left, when Evan Pavlicek hammered a header that hit the crossbar and ricocheted away.
"We were all around the goal in the first half," Hawks coach Chris Holloway said. "They just weren't falling our way. But they played hard tonight, they played good. I'm proud of them."
Houser notched his second goal on a penalty kick after Ryland Williams was taken down from behind in the penalty box early in the second half.
The Hawks finally broke through with 30:03 to play, when Dustin Weir cashed in a crossing pass from teammate Michael Williams for a goal against Colonels keeper Cameron Frye.
Carter answered five minutes later, punching in a deflection for a goal off Ryland Williams' corner kick.
Carter struck again less than two minutes later on another through ball, slicing a shot on the run that hit off the left post and bounced into the net for his third goal of the day. Carter had never previously scored more than one goal in a game. He, along with Houser and Ryland Williams (one goal, two assists) more than made up for the absence of top scorer Jonathan Henriques.
"Those are the players that make us go," Dunsmore said. "Really it's goal-scoring by committee for us. We'll take it any way we can get it."
Weir tallied his second goal with a beautifully placed free kick with 21:18 to play. The junior sent a curling shot from near the sideline that tucked into the far right corner of the net.
"We've got a lot of individual skill," Weir said. "Next year we're only losing three seniors. We've really worked hard this season. I feel like we've done pretty well for this season."
Houser got his first hat trick with 18:52 to go when he gathered in a cross from Carter at the top of the penalty box, then coolly flicked a shot past the onrushing Clatterbuck.
"I think this is the first time we're really connected like this in front of the goal," Houser said. "I think we had a lot of great goals and a lot of opportunities, and we just put them away. It was nice to finally do that."
Weir helped the Hawks strike one last time when he sent a long free kick into the penalty area, where teammate Alex Moran tracked it down and connected on a slicing shot that found the left corner.
The scoring was nice -- the three goals put Skyline's total at 40 this season, more than twice as many goals as the Hawks had scored in the previous five seasons combined -- but it wasn't enough to extend the season.
"You get down early and it's hard to come back," Holloway said. "It just seems like playing these district teams, that's been our downfall this year."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>