By Brad Fauber
RADFORD -- Perhaps Stonewall Jackson was still feeling the effects of a lengthy match the day before. Maybe the Generals were thrown off by the physicality of George Mason. Maybe they were feeling the pressure of competing in the biggest soccer match of their high school careers.
Maybe it was a combination of all three.
Whatever the reason, Stonewall Jackson simply didn't look like the confident team that had reeled off 24 straight victories when it took the field against George Mason at the start of the Group A boys soccer state championship match on Sunday at Radford University.
The Generals appeared to be physically overmatched by an aggressive Mustangs squad in the game's first 15 minutes, and Stonewall's shaky start provided a window for George Mason to put the Generals in an early deficit with a goal in the opening minutes.
Stonewall eventually settled in, but the damage had been done. The Generals were never able to fully recover, and their magical season ended with a 2-1 loss to the Mustangs, giving George Mason its sixth state title since 2000.
The defeat was a bitter end to an otherwise stellar season, but Generals coach Caleb Golladay knows his team can still take pride in a season that included Stonewall's first Region B title -- a 3-1 win over George Mason on May 31-- and just the program's second appearance ever in the state championship match.
"Being able to get past that game yesterday [in the state semifinals] and play 100 minutes and penalties -- just being able to do all of that and then come here and play the game that they played today was special for us," Golladay said. "For these guys to push through everything that they've had to push through was great for them. It was something they needed to do and they were able to do."
Having already faced the Mustangs once this season in the regional championship, Stonewall (24-1) expected a physical match when the two teams met again on Sunday. However, some Stonewall players admitted that they were surprised at the physical pressure that George Mason displayed early in the match.
Mustangs coach Frank Spinello said the increased pressure early was designed to prevent a sluggish start, which doomed George Mason in its first meeting with Stonewall.
"We did that yesterday and again today, tried to come out and just press the action early," Spinello said. "In a big game, people try and feel out the game a little bit first. We figured if we could put a little bit of pressure right from the beginning, set them on their heels and if we got one in, great. If not, at least it would give us some momentum going forward."
Spinello and the Mustangs didn't have to wait long for their strategy to pay off, as freshman Raheem Lawal scored off a corner kick from teammate Henry Darmstadter in just the third minute.
"I expected the first 10 or 15 minutes, if we could weather the storm like we did the first game against them, I think we could've got it," Golladay said. "But they got that early goal and that's what kind of set it off."
Stonewall had limited opportunities to answer in the early stage of the match, but the Generals finally settled into a comfort zone near the midway mark of the first half.
The Generals fired five shots over the final 25 minutes of the half, and Stonewall junior Roberto Cardoso Jr. nearly tied the match in the 19th minute, but a spectacular save by Mustangs keeper Sebastian Umerez (four saves) kept Stonewall scoreless and sent George Mason into halftime with a 1-0 lead.
Cardoso finally got the Generals on the board in the 53rd minute on an unassisted goal from the top of the penalty box to tie the match at 1-1, giving Stonewall some much-needed momentum.
George Mason snatched that momentum right back, however, as sophomore Patrick Pereddo broke loose on a long ball and beat Generals keeper Ryan Zerkel to reclaim the lead seven minutes later.
"Our momentum went and skyrocketed and we were ready to get in for another goal, but that killed us when they got that second goal," Cardoso said.
Stonewall fired three shots over the next 10 minutes as it tried to even the score, and the Generals' offensive attack became more and more desperate as the clock began winding down.
The Generals' offense took a big blow when senior David Dodson was given a red card with 5:32 remaining, which forced a fatigued Stonewall squad to play a man down for the remainder of the match.
Stonewall went the final 10 minutes of the match without a significant look at the goal, and many of Stonewall's players collapsed on the field in tears as the final whistle blew.
"At the end I was talking to the guys and I said, 'You know what, you guys have to do something.' They couldn't produce it. They couldn't get there," Golladay said. They played their hearts out and they did what they could.
"I can't ask for anything more from my team."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org