NEWTON — After 110 minutes of playing time, Newton-Conover’s boys soccer team turned to goalkeeper Jon Joplin to win the match for the Red Devils. Tied at 2-2 after four overtime periods, the senior keeper made two stops during the decisive penalty kick shootout and the Red Devils took it 4-1 over Fred T. Foard to win in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2A playoffs on Saturday afternoon.
Seeded eighth in the West Region, the Red Devils (19-3-1) advance to Wednesday night’s third round at No. 1 East Lincoln. The Mustangs (24-0) moved ahead with a 6-1 win over North Lincoln. East Lincoln defeated Newton-Conover twice during the South Fork 2A Conference season.
No. 9 seed Foard finished the season at 16-5-5.
The shootout win was the fourth in two seasons for Joplin and the Red Devils, the second in the playoffs. Last season, Newton-Conover took a winner-take-all match in the season finale against East Lincoln to win the South Fork title. A few weeks later, the Red Devils won the 2A West title over Salisbury when it played to a 1-1 tie before winning the shootout 4-2.
So, when the match appeared to be headed to a shootout, Red Devils coach Angelo Palozzi was confident the 6-foot-1 senior in goal again would be up to the task of stopping shots.
“In that second 10 (minutes) of overtime,” said Palozzi. “I was like, ‘Let’s just to get to the sudden death.’ And then both teams were just dead tired. I told the guys, ‘Don’t do anything stupid. Just clear it and let’s get it to penalty kicks and let Jon do what Jon does.’ It worked out just fine.”
Newton-Conover immediately took the momentum in the first round when Jason Agreda pounded a shot on net, but Joplin made a diving stop to his right to grab Irvin Martinez-Villa’s shot. The Red Devils’ Addison Hayes and the Tigers’ Grayson Walker each punched in during round two before Benji Soto made it 3-1 Newton-Conover with his score. Joplin then put the Red Devils on the verge of a win after he dove left to deflect the shot of Conner Josey off the right post. Alvaro Moreno’s shot in round four sealed the shootout stage and the win.
“My mindset is that I’m confident in myself in these,” Joplin said. “I’ve worked on these for years. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into practicing those and I think it’s shown that.”
With elimination at hand for either team, the pace for the matinee match was measured with the squads relying on set pieces to create offense. Unofficially, Foard outshot Newton-Conover 6-3 through regulation and each time put just one shot at the keepers in the overtime, both on long shots from midfield.
“You try to do stuff, but both teams are working hard,” Palozzi said. “You couldn’t really get a rhythm going. You’d have a pass or two and then have a defender right on you. It was a gutsy performance out there.”
The Tigers took the lead in the 30th minute when a Newton-Conover defender failed to cut off a long ball from Carlos Erazo-Rojo into the 18-yard box. Joplin missed a quick attempt to grab the ball before Villa got to it on the goal line. The easy tap made it 1-0.
The Red Devils did not get a shot on goal but evened the match anyway in the 35th minute. A Tigers pass back to goalkeeper Trevor Holmberg was harassed by Soto. Jordan Del Pilar attempted to assist his teammate, but inadvertently kicked the ball away and into the net for the own goal.
Newton-Conover took the lead in the 61st minute as a corner kick found its way out of the scramble and to the top of the box. Omar Anota’s low shot cleared through traffic and into the net. But the Tigers got even with their own set piece five minutes later, as a deep throw-in set up Carlos Erazo-Rojo for the shot from 20 yards out.
“I was so proud of my kids, as far as the fight and not quitting,” said Tigers coach Goforth. “They fought back and got themselves back in the game and we were unlucky defensively. That’s soccer. We went 2-2 here earlier in the season and 2-2 here again today.”
The final minute of regulation came with quick scoring chances for both teams. A Foard throw-in created a high bouncing ball by Foard in the 6-yard area that was swatted away by Joplin before both Andrei Tamas and Korbin Proctor each had defended shots at Joplin. At the other end, a long ball to Agreda rushing to the net was deflected away as time expired.
Goforth said that the sequence by Joplin in defending the Tigers at the end was a key moment.
“The thing, he isn’t just a good goal in the PKs,” said Goforth. “He’s a good goalie throughout the match. He was really good at coming up on saves on our throw-ins, which on a narrow field, was a weapon for us this year. Their goalie took care of that.”
While a few minor scoring chances occurred during the 30 minutes of overtime, both teams focused on not making mistakes that would eliminate them.