Central boys blank Madison in conference semis

Central's Elijah Williams heads the ball over Madison's Kevin Ramos during the first half of the Conference 35 boys soccer semifinals Tuesday evening in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Central High School’s boys soccer team whiffed on a handful of scoring opportunities during the first 25 minutes of Tuesday’s Conference 35 tournament semifinal match against visiting Madison County. The Falcons remedied that with a pair of goals in rapid succession.

Central seniors Edwar Calles and J.P. Bennett teamed up to strike for two goals in a 17-second span in the first half, and the Falcons’ defense once again put the clamps down on the third-seeded Mountaineers as the No. 2 Falcons picked up a 3-0 victory.

The win sends Central (13-2-2) into the Conference 35 championship game at top-seeded George Mason on Thursday and earned the Falcons a spot in the Region 2A East tournament for the second straight season.

“It wasn’t our best game. We talked about that at halftime,” Falcons head coach Ted Poor said. “But we got the shutout, and that’s our 10th. That’s an accomplishment. We’ve only given up 11 goals this year, which is fairly extraordinary.

“It was a good game. They took care of business. The defense just is always solid and keeps us in it. And J.P.’s speed is just beautiful, isn’t it? I mean the way he beats that wing, that’s why I pulled him out on that one point on the outside and put somebody else up in the middle, because I knew he could get around and set up a goal.”

Central's Trenton Hitt penetrates inside to get off a shot while Madison's Trevor Geer slips trying to defend the shot. Hitt's shot went wide on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

It was that formation switch – shifting Bennett to the wing – that helped the Falcons generate their first goal of the evening after coming up empty on their first five shots. The senior worked his way around the edge of Madison County’s defense before poking a short crossing pass to Calles, who converted the 6-yard shot to put the Falcons up 1-0 in the 27th minute.

“We weren’t getting very many shots on goal and we just kept getting crosses that we weren’t getting first touches on, so I figured I’d try to get by the guy,” said Bennett, who had two goals and an assist in the win. “I made a move around the guy, cut inside, and then Edwar came and crashed on the pass I gave him.”

That goal proved to be the jolt Central needed.

“We feel like we’re stronger, we need to score more and more and more when we score the first time,” Calles said.

Seventeen seconds after Calles found the back of the net, Bennett put Central up 2-0 when he fired a shot from the top corner of the penalty box that deflected off a Madison defender and skipped past Mountaineers goalkeeper Brian Metz.

Central's Armando Carreno, center, tries to head the ball as Madison's Trevor Greer, left, and Central's Landon Shockey, right, look on during first half soccer action Tuesday evening in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“That just flipped the whole momentum of the game,” Bennett said. “They thought they were still in it but once you get up two goals then that’s a pretty safe lead.”

Bennett put Madison County in a 3-0 hole with another goal 14 minutes into the second half, but Central’s defense made sure the Mountaineers never came close to threatening the Falcons’ lead.

Central – which enjoyed a 17-8 shot advantage in the win – did allow seven shots in the second half but the Falcons’ defense managed to keep junior goalkeeper Dean Woodwell fairly clean all evening. Woodwell was required to make just two saves – one in each half – on a pair of long free kicks.

The Falcons figure to face a stiffer test on Thursday against George Mason, which has won four straight state championships. The Mustangs handed Central its only two losses of the season to date, including a 1-0 loss earlier this month in which the Falcons were without both Calles and Bennett.

Central lost on Mason’s home field, 4-1, in the season opener.

Central's Jon Bennett, left, works for position over Madison's Ethan Taylor, right, during first half boys soccer action Tuesday evening in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

“When we played that first game we had some decent possession, and that was unusual for us up there because usually we’re just bunkered down trying to hold onto ourselves. But we did a nice job the first time,” Poor said. “When we played them here, I swear I thought that game was pretty darn even. … They’re a talented, talented team and they’ve been there so many times, but I give ourselves a good chance.”