By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County's boys soccer team withstood a shooting barrage from visiting George Mason for most of the first half on Wednesday night. But when the Mustangs finally did find the back of the net, things spiraled out of control quickly for the Wildcats.
George Mason, last year's state champion in the old Group A format, finally broke through for its first goal of the night with nine minutes remaining in the first half, and the Mustangs kept on scoring in an 8-0 rout that was shortened by the mercy rule.
"The first goal rattled us," Wildcats coach Manuel Alban said. "We were doing, I think, pretty OK with holding them back. We changed the tactics a little bit and [the Mustangs] were getting a little frustrated before the first goal arrived. I think once the first goal arrived everything just fell apart. The kids got nervous in the back and they just couldn't find any of the guys to cover."
Warren County (4-5-1 overall and in the Bull Run District) held the Mustangs (12-1) scoreless for the match's first 30 minutes, despite an unrelenting attack by George Mason.
The Mustangs finally capitalized on their ninth corner kick opportunity of the half, as Kavon Nawroozi sent a perfect ball into the middle of the box to sophomore striker Elliot Mercado, who beat Warren County keeper Josh Butler (eight saves) with a shot to give George Mason a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute.
Senior midfielder Paul Darmstadter doubled the Mustangs' lead just two minutes later, as he scored on a header from the right post off another Nawroozi corner kick.
"We had a lot of chances on throw-ins and set pieces that we really didn't capitalize on, but once Elliot Mercado got that first goal everything opened up and took the pressure off of us," said Darmstadter, who tied a career high with four goals on Wednesday.
Mercado added another goal to George Mason's lead when he rifled a 22-yard shot into the net with five minutes left in the first half, and he completed his hat trick with a goal off a deflection in the closing minute to give the Mustangs a 4-0 lead going into halftime.
George Mason outshot the Wildcats 21-0 in the first half, and 30-0 in the match.
"It's fine if we don't get on the board but we start slow. ... We were possessing it from the beginning, so I knew it was just a matter of time before we put something in," Mustangs coach Frank Spinello said.
The Mustangs' torrid scoring pace continued in the second half, as Darmstadter scored his second goal just over two minutes in.
A Warren County defender tried to clear a George Mason free kick that sailed into the box, but the ball was kicked right at Darmstadter. The ball caromed off Darmstadter's body and off a Wildcats defender before crossing the goal line.
Sophomore Raheem Lawal scored off an assist by Matteo D.Agostino with 28 minutes remaining to give the Mustangs a 6-0 lead, and Darmstadter scored on a penalty kick six minutes later.
Darmstadter ended the match with just less than 20 minutes left to play when he sent an arcing shot from the top of the box into the net.
"We expected them to have the possession game, the passing and the physical work," Alban said. "Unlike the first game [on March 20], we just couldn't keep up with them. At least the first game we were a little more aggressive. This time it seemed like we gave up a little too soon."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD