By Brad Fauber
QUICKSBURG -- Stonewall Jackson wasn't quite sure what to expect from visiting Northampton as the two teams met in the Group A boys soccer state quarterfinal match on Tuesday evening.
With the two schools separated by nearly 300 miles, neither team was afforded much in the way of scouting reports, and the Generals' perception of Northampton prior to the start of the match was murky at best. But even without clear image of what it was up against, Stonewall did expect to do on Tuesday what it had done in each of its previous 22 matches -- win.
It wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't pretty, but Stonewall kept its undefeated season alive with a 2-1 win over the Yellow Jackets, sending the Generals to the state semifinals in Radford for the first time since 2009.
Stonewall will play Radford High School in the semifinal round at 10 a.m. on Friday.
"It wasn't a great win. It was a win and I am happy with a win," Generals coach Caleb Golladay said. "[Northampton] didn't press that much -- they didn't have pressure much at all. And it went both ways, we didn't have that much pressure, either. I think it was a good time to get this out of the way ... get our last bad game out of the way."
Although Stonewall (23-0) appeared uncharacteristically sluggish at times in its offensive attack, the Generals were able to jump on the board quickly behind an early goal by senior forward David Dodson.
Dodson -- who has emerged as the go-to goal scorer early in matches for the Generals this postseason -- snuck behind the Northampton defense on a nice through ball by teammate Juan Luna and was able to flick a shot past Yellow Jackets goalkeeper Jose Lopez in a one-on-one chance just four minutes into the match.
"The keeper was cheating out to the right a little bit and I just shot it to the left corner and it went in," Dodson said. "I just caught him cheating and sometimes that's all you have to do. You don't have to kick the ball extremely hard, you just have to place it."
Stonewall nearly padded its lead just four minutes later but was denied when Roberto Cardoso Jr. fired a shot that glanced off the left goal post and out of play. Lopez (12 saves) then made a series of four spectacular saves during a barrage of Stonewall shots several minutes later to prevent Northampton's deficit from increasing.
Stonewall fired 14 shots in the first half, compared to just three for the Yellow Jackets. Northampton's own slow start on offense could have been the result of the seven-hour bus ride that the team had to take from its home in Eastville.
"It's difficult, that's why you're supposed win your region. Then you get to stay home," Yellow Jackets coach John Gorman said. "But no excuses, [Stonewall] played great. You've got to give it to them."
Offensive opportunities were more balanced for both teams in the second half, as Northampton and Stonewall each fired eight shots over the final 40 minutes.
After failing to mount any threatening attacks in the first half, the Yellow Jackets finally found the back of the net just over six minutes into the second half to tie the match.
After two shot attempts by the Yellow Jackets were deflected by the Stonewall defense inside the penalty box, Northampton was awarded a corner kick from the right side. Senior Aran Teeling sent the kick toward the back post, where teammate Raul Gildo was waiting for a perfectly timed header that quieted the Stonewall crowd and knotted the score at 1-1.
"After that goal, I looked at them and said, 'You know what, it's 0-0 right now. We have to play. The game is not over and we need to step up and play,'" Golladay said.
Golladay said he turned to Dodson and Luna, telling the duo to step up and increase the pressure against Northampton's defense.
Dodson and Luna quickly answered Golladay's call, as the pair hooked up again for a goal just two minutes later to regain the lead and the momentum for Stonewall. Luna once again was able to punch the ball ahead to Dodson, who streaked into the penalty box with another one-on-one chance with Lopez, and Dodson found the back of the net to give the Generals a 2-1 lead that they would hold for the final 32 minutes of the match.
Stonewall's goal all season has been to make the trip back to Radford for the Group A final four in boys soccer, but Dodson said it has yet to sink in that the Generals have now accomplished that goal.
"It hasn't hit me yet. It just feels like another home game. It doesn't feel like we've played 23 games, it doesn't feel like we've won all 23 -- but this team is hitting its peak right now," Dodson said. "We didn't play extremely well today, but we played well enough to win. And that's all that matters."
For Golladay -- who participated in the Group A state semifinals as a player for Stonewall in 2009 -- the return trip to Radford is something he looks forward to experiencing.
"I never thought I would be going back down to Radford for a state final four. As a player, I thought that was my last time I was going to be able to go down there. Being able to go back down there is just something special for us," Golladay said. "This will be our fifth trip down there, and I'm just ready to go down there and play. I just wish the game was tomorrow. I'm almost as excited as these guys are."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com