Benji Soto

Newton-Conover's Benji Soto (8) looks to pass while being defended by East Lincoln's Tyler Swanson (5) in this file photo.

Familiarity is the theme for several local schools as the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s boys soccer state playoffs enter Round 2 today.

Seven of the 11 2A schools from area conferences advanced and six of them will face each other, including Catawba County rivals Fred T. Foard and Newton-Conover, Caldwell County rivals West Caldwell and Hibriten, as well as Northwestern Foothills 2A foes Hibriten and West Caldwell, and finally South Fork 2A Conference and Lincoln County rivals North Lincoln and East Lincoln. The Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference had four of the five schools move into the second round with half of the South Fork’s six still alive.

Northwestern 3A/4A Conference schools Hickory and Watauga moved ahead in the 3A bracket, and South Caldwell takes to the pitch for the first time after a bye in the 4A tournament.

Here is a look at the second-round matches:


No. 17 North Lincoln (14-8-2) at No. 1 East Lincoln (23-0)

Conference and county ties aside, this is a historical meeting for both in other ways. Collectively, it’ll be the first time these two have met in the playoffs.

For North Lincoln, it will be the second time it has reached the second round of the playoffs. With Wednesday’s win at North Davidson, the Knights set a school record for wins and won their first playoff match since 2012. North Lincoln, which opened in 2003, won 13 in both 2009 and 2010.

East Lincoln routed East Burke 6-1 on Wednesday and also surpassed its record for wins in a season, set just a year ago. However, the goal for the Mustangs is to get to 28 and the West No. 1 seed, led by coach Billy Howell, certainly has the squad to do that. The 146-25 scoring margin is proof to the complete dominance this team has shown.

The Mustangs have owned the series this decade with a 12-3-1 record, but with the improvement shown by North Lincoln in two seasons under Carlos Arias, the gap has closed from an 8-2 rout last season to a 5-4 nailbiter just over three weeks ago. The four goals allowed by the Mustangs is a season high.

In the playoffs, anything is possible and with the teams knowing each other as well as they do, this 1-vs.- 17 match may not be the cakewalk these types of contests are.

Next up: No. 9 Fred T. Foard (16-4-5) or No. 8 Newton-Conover (18-3-1)

No. 9 Fred T. Foard (16-4-5) at No. 8 Newton-Conover (18-3-1)

When these two schools met back in September in a contest that ended in a 2-2 tie, Foard coach Scottie Goforth said in the post-match interview, “I think honestly the reality hasn’t set in here just yet as far as the magnitude of the result.” Indeed, after an 8-12-3 record the previous year, at that point of the season the Tigers were 4-1-3 with a tie against Ledford, the current 2A East No. 1 seed, wins over future playoff teams St. Stephens, Hendersonville and Wilkes Central, and then a tie against the defending 2A West champs. The only loss at that time was to 2A West No. 1 East Lincoln. They took 2A West No. 2 Hibriten to a shootout and lost 1-0. Simply, the Tigers can play with anybody.

Meanwhile, the Red Devils have the playoff experience that is second to none in the West bracket — a 2A championship in 2017 and, with a revamped group, a state runner-up finish last year. With a coach that has seen it all and doesn’t panic in-season, Angelo Palozzi has his group on the rise at the right time. Evidence of that? After a rout by East Lincoln, the Red Devils came back and took the Mustangs to double overtime before losing 2-1.

Next up: No. 17 North Lincoln (14-8-2) or No. 1 East Lincoln (23-0)

No. 26 Carver (9-8-1) at No. 23 West Iredell (11-9-2)

This is one of two second-round matches that will feature schools that are both 20+ seeds.

Carver advanced after defeating No. 7 Ashe County 2-1 and secured the program’s first playoff win in only the second postseason match ever for the school. The Yellowjackets finished fifth in the Western Piedmont 2A Conference.

With Carver’s upset, West Iredell gets the surprise of hosting a playoff match. The Warriors ended the season fourth in the Northwestern Foothills 2A and advanced to the second round after taking out No. 10 South Point.

Surprisingly, one of these teams will play in round three. Both have to be saying, “Why not us?”

Next up: No. 13 West Caldwell (14-5-2) or No. 2 Hibriten (22-1-2)

No. 13 West Caldwell (14-5-2) at No. 2 Hibriten (22-1-2)

Back in 2014, all three Caldwell County high school soccer programs combined to win 18 matches. To show how far they have come, this is the second year in a row all three are in the state playoffs and tonight, all three are in the second round. Two of them play here.

Had the weather back on Oct. 30 been different, perhaps this match wouldn’t happen. Foard and West Caldwell played in a winner-take-all match for second place, with a heavy rainstorm washing out much of the second half and causing things to end in a tie. Because Foard won the first match, the Tigers got the automatic bid and West Caldwell was an at-large team. The Warriors advanced to the second round by defeating No. 20 Lincolnton.

Hibriten scored three in the first half Wednesday to put away Wilkes Central in Round 1, and now the Panthers face a team they have dominated in recent years. Hibriten is 8-3-1 against the Warriors since 2013 and winners of the last four. However, the second match this year was a 2-1 final with the Panthers getting the decisive goal in the second half.

Hibriten has won 18 in a row and is unbeaten since the season opener at Hickory. The match will be on the Panthers' home pitch and it seems they should have the advantage. But with kids who know each other and have played with and against each other, both sides will go all out. And anything can happen.

Next up: No. 26 Carver (9-8-1) or No. 23 West Iredell (11-9-2)


No. 12 Hickory (16-5-3) at No. 5 South Iredell (18-2-2)

Hickory shook off any memories of its first-round elimination at home a year ago by routing No. 21 Enka. The Red Tornadoes are 8-1 in October and November with the lone loss coming in a 2-0 defeat by Northwestern 3A/4A champion Watauga. The margin during that stretch is 41-7. The win over the Jets also gives the Red Tornadoes a chance to reach a historic milestone. The next victory will be the program’s 700th since the program began in 1982. This will be Hickory’s first road playoff match since 2014, when it defeated Concord in the first round. The last road loss came in 2012 at Jesse Carson.

South Iredell ran the table in the North Piedmont 2A Conference. Like Hickory, the Vikings shook off a first-round elimination at home from a year ago by routing Erwin 9-0. South Iredell is looking to get to the third round for the first time since 2013, when it made the 3A quarterfinals. These two teams last played in 2014 with the Vikings winning 2-1 at Hickory.

Next up: No. 20 Cuthbertson (12-8-1) or No. 4 Southwest Guilford (17-5-3)

No. 11 Marvin Ridge (15-4-1) at No. 6 Watauga (16-5-1)

Marvin Ridge has been among the top 3A schools for about a decade, winning three championships since 2009 and winding up as the runner-up finisher a year ago. The Mavericks finished second in the Southern Carolina 3A Conference behind 3A West No. 1 seed Charlotte Catholic. They advanced to Round 2 by defeating No. 22 Jay M. Robinson Wednesday. All four losses have come against teams playing in the second round tonight.

Watauga has won 10 in a row after taking out No. 27 Monroe Wednesday. Like Marvin Ridge, the Pioneers have played tough competition with four of the five losses coming against teams playing in Round 2 this evening. Watauga is looking to get to the third round for the second straight season, and do so in a less stressful manner the 2018. In last year’s second round, the Pioneers got a goal with 33 seconds left in the fourth overtime to defeat Concord.

Next up: No. 14 Statesville (12-7-2) or No. 3 T.C. Roberson (19-2)


No. 10 Greensboro Page (9-6-5) at No. 7 South Caldwell (11-7)

The Spartans last played on Oct. 29 and now hope to knock off the rust against the Pirates. South Caldwell had a bye in the first round and now tries to accomplish a first in the program’s history — winning a playoff match. The Spartans, who finished third in the Northwestern 3A/4A, have come a long way since a succession of single-digit win totals much of the decade. This is the fifth postseason appearance all-time for the program, with the third in a row coming today. South Caldwell lost to South Mecklenburg in 2017 and to Ardrey Kell last year. Both were as No. 7 seeds after getting a first-round bye.

Page comes to Sawmills after outlasting Mallard Creek 2-1 on Wednesday. The Pirates were second in the Metro 4A Conference and look to return to Round 3 after a first-round elimination last year. Page has five soccer championship and two runner-up finishes all-time with the last championship coming in 2009.

Next up: No. 18 Porter Ridge (15-8-1) or No. 2 Northwest Guilford (18-2-2)

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