NEWTON — The boys soccer program at East Lincoln has been on the rise since winning just 14 matches over two seasons in 2015 and 2016. However, the one feather in the cap missing was a victory over Newton-Conover, one of the top 2A programs in the state the past five seasons. The visiting Mustangs exorcised that demon with a convincing 4-0 win Monday night in a South Fork 2A Conference match at Gurley Stadium.
The teams entered Monday’s match ranked as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s top two squads by MaxPreps.com. However, the top-ranked Mustangs (15-0 overall, 7-0 South Fork) took control early and dominated play from the start.
“I didn’t expect it to be this way,” said East Lincoln head coach Billy Howell. “I expected it to be back and forth all night.”
The Mustangs showed a relentless attack all night and finished, unofficially, with 16 shots on goal to just four for the Red Devils (11-2-1, 6-1).
“It was one of those games that was needed, but not needed,” said Red Devils coach Angelo Palozzi. “They’re a great team and they just had too much speed for us and so forth, for tonight. We didn’t play up to how we can play. They took it right to us and it was hard to stop it.”
The Mustangs’ offense was led throughout the night by leading scorer Chase Gilley (36 goals). The senior striker made run after run at the net starting in the seventh minute, when a mini breakaway was thwarted when goalkeeper Jon Joplin cradled the ball before a shot was taken.
Gilley returned two minutes with a header off a cross from Blake Swanson. The shot was deflected away, but the ensuing corner kick found its way to Gilley from about 10 yards out and he quickly put the shot in for the goal.
Gilley’s twin brother Logan got into the act in the 25th minute when he nailed a free kick from the top of the 18-yard box for his 27th goal to make it 2-0.
Often the Mustangs’ run at the net started with midfield play and such a sequence led to the third goal in the 28th minute. Pearson Cunningham intercepted a pass at the circle and turned upfield. The play developed into a give-and-go that set Chase Gilley up near the box. Joplin’s attempt to corral the high bounce went awry as Gilley was able to head the ball away and score.
Palozzi bemoaned his team’s inability to control play at midfield.
“We talked about minimizing mistakes,” said Palozzi. “Teams are going to capitalize on that, especially against a team like this with all that speed and talent up top. You can’t give them those opportunities. If Jon wasn’t in goal, they could’ve have easily had nine on us.”
A cross from Swanson to Cunningham set up the final goal in the 42nd minute.
Despite the lead, Howell was mindful of the first of two matches a year ago when the Mustangs allowed a 3-1 lead to slip away. He said his team was determined not to allow that to happen again.
“That one really bothered us,” said Howell. “We had a 3-1 lead and they came back and won it in overtime. That haunted me for a year, and I know it bothered them. So, for us to come out and play the way that we did, I think it showed some growth and I think it showed some maturity.”
Newton-Conover entered Monday’s match 14-0-1 against East Lincoln since 2011. Howell said that while he did not allow his team to look ahead to Monday’s match, at the expense of playing other opponents, the Mustangs’ coach certainly looked forward to the challenge.
“He’s the best around here,” Howell said in praise of Palozzi. “To be able to step up and compete with them last year was a big step for us. To be able to say that we were able to take one from them was huge for this team.”
The Red Devils visit Lincolnton tonight