By Brad Fauber
STAUNTON -- Stonewall Jackson's boys soccer team was hoping for a better outcome in its third meeting of the season against Shenandoah District rival Riverheads in the quarterfinal round of the Region 2A East tournament.
The Generals played their best game of the season against the Gladiators on Monday evening, but it still wasn't quite enough to beat the Conference 36 champions. Riverheads broke a tie with a goal with 17 minutes remaining, and the Gladiators held on for a 2-1 win, their third over Stonewall this year.
"It's a bummer. No one likes to lose, especially us. We don't like losing," said Generals coach Caleb Golladay, who led his team to a state runner-up finish a season ago. "Our school is used to this, we do things like this every year. But it still sucks to lose, especially in a tight game like this to Riverheads, a district team that we've played throughout the years.
"... But this game by far is definitely the best game [against Riverheads] that we've played all the way through."
Stonewall Jackson (12-8) struggled on Monday to rein in the speed of Riverheads forward James Kasak, who scored both of the Gladiators' goals including a strike in the 15th minute to give Riverheads a 1-0 advantage.
On the play, Kasak fielded a cross pass from teammate Elijah Knopp before dribbling into the left side of the penalty box. Kasak fired a shot that glanced off a Stonewall defender and the ball was redirected just enough to get over the head of Generals keeper Ryan Zerkel.
"The first game when we came here, we noticed his speed. That was the first thing that stood out to us," Golladay said of Kasak. "He's got decent foot skill, he can beat somebody on the dribble. But most of all, if he gets one touched past you, he's going to beat you with his feet.
"The first goal was a goal down the side and we got unlucky on a touch that directed it the opposite way."
Riverheads maintained its one-goal lead into halftime, but the Generals knotted it up just over two minutes into the second half on a goal by junior Adam Goodier. Stonewall senior Jonas Jacuinde found Goodier with a nice through ball at the top of the box, and Goodier worked his way just inside the penalty area before sending the 15-yard shot past Gladiators goalkeeper Mark Jackson.
"That was huge for him, and I see that he's definitely grown this year. He's definitely blossomed," Golladay said of Goodier, who has played several different positions in Stonewall's soccer program. "He's still got a lot of growing to do ... but at the same time he's doing stuff like this against Riverheads. In a game like this against a team like this -- I mean, he dribbled three guys and put the ball side netting. I was just glad to see that. It gives me a look for next year."
Kasak made a bid to put Riverheads back out front with 18 minutes to play when he took a tap from teammate Ryan Kyler off a breakaway, but Generals defender Leo Galindez hustled back to put enough pressure on Kasak to force the ball out of bounds.
Kasak and Kyler hooked up on an identical play just a minute later, and Kasak converted by sending a slow rolling shot to the left of Zerkel, who charged toward Kasak but lost his footing as the ball skidded past.
"Ryan Kyler was working hard, won the 50-50 and got a poke through. I was one-on-one, hit to the far post and it went in," Kasak said.
Kasak, a sophomore, nearly added a third goal two minutes later when he got loose on yet another breakaway off a long ball, but Zerkel (six saves) made a diving attempt to his left and got just enough of the ball to redirect it off the right post.
Stonewall -- which drew four yellow cards in the game -- made an aggressive push for the tying goal over the last 10 minutes of the match but came up empty.
Riverheads held a 13-10 shot advantage in the game.
"Our defense has been unselfish all year. They've been willing to sacrifice their bodies and work hard to keep the ball out of our own end," said Gladiators coach Mark Husband, whose team will travel to Nandua for the regional semifinals.
The loss on Monday capped an up and down season for Stonewall Jackson, which suffered through some early-season struggles before rebounding and making it back to the regional tournament.
"For us, this was huge just making it back here," Golladay said. "We knew coming into the season ... we didn't have the talent that we did last year. So, coming into the season we weren't worried about not playing well, we were worried about what we had to do in order to play well. The guys, they kind of got a few wake-up calls in the beginning of the season ... but they bounced back so well."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD