RALEIGH — It may have been a pipe dream back in the dog days of August, but it’s a mid-November reality — Salisbury is the state 2A boys soccer champion.
The Hornets played with their trademark chutzpah in the second half Saturday at N.C. State’s Dail Field, where they fended off previously unbeaten First Flight, 2-1, and captured their second state title in three years.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think this was possible,” coach Matt Parrish said after Salisbury (27-1) won its 25th straight match and completed its evolution into a championship team. “I set up the most difficult schedule ever — on purpose. I knew we had to be battle-tested for the playoffs. We played so many 2A, 3A, 4A teams that made the playoffs. I did that for games exactly like that one.”
It was a perfect ending to a history-making season. No SHS team won more matches than this one and its 10 seniors were twice crowned the state’s best. One of them, leading scorer Bobby Cardelle, fittingly rifled home the decisive goal early in the second half.
“Four years ago he told us we were going to win the state our sophomore and senior years,” senior defender John Canipe said. “I guess he just knew we had the talent and we had the heart.”
Cardelle was chosen game-MVP after netting his 45th goal and assisting on a first-half score by teammate Emmy Turcios.
“To win it once was a great thrill,” Cardelle said, a broad smile creasing across his face. “But again as a senior is just incredible. Every time we went out to practice we knew this is what we were playing for.”
What had been a relatively carefree guided tour through the playoffs took a turn for the worse when First Flight (24-1) — a team that allowed only 12 goals all season — opened the scoring in the 12th minute. The play unfolded when Salisbury midfielder Phil Simons and goalkeeper Max Fisher converged on a loose ball 10 yards in front of the Hornets’ cage. When neither was able to gain control, FF’s Jay Cueva snuck in and slid the ball into an unguarded net.
“It was a miscommunication,” said Simons, who received Salisbury’s Sportsmanship Award before the match. “I was calling to Max to come out and get it, but he should have been calling for the ball. Instead they slipped it through on the ground.”
Teammate Clint Comadoll searched for an explanation. “People were nervous,” he said. “For some reason we gave up a sloppy goal that never should have happened. I figured if we got scored on today if would be on a good goal. Not that.”
Added Canipe: “I don’t think I’ve ever been that mad.”
It appeared First Flight had rattled the Hornets, sending them into a 20-minute funk characterized by missed connections and passes to no one in particular. “We started playing a little bit flat,” said Turcios. “We were just kicking balls.”
Someone needed to make a momentum-changing play and Turcios, the senior who scored to give Salisbury its first state title in 2011, rose to the occasion. There was 7:11 remaining in the first half when he took a feed from Cardelle, attacked from the right side and drilled an 8-yard shot under Nighthawks’ keeper Valente Garcia.
“I thought he had it,” Turcios said after netting his 25th goal. “It looked like he had it by his hand, but it got through.”
As the second half opened, Salisbury found itself in a situation that begged for someone with Cardelle’s resume. The senior marksman isn’t face-on-a-lunchbox famous, but he’s a well-known finisher — and he was on a mission.
“We played too much of the game in the air,” he said. “But then we were starting to find feet. I found (Comadoll) making a run down the middle and he played a great 1-2 touch with me. All I had to do was finish it.”
His goal — 105th and last of his prep career — came seven minutes into the second half and took some quick thinking by Comadoll. “Bobby played it to me and suddenly there were four guys on me,” he said. “They all came to me. So real quick I saw an opening and got it back to him. Then Bobby did what he does best.”
There was more drama as the teams raced to a breathless finish. Only 3:30 remained when FF’s Graham Smalley — a 33-goal scorer this autumn — fired a 30-yard free kick that crashed high off the right post. “Hey, it’s not a soccer game without a ball rocking the post,” Simons said. “Extraordinary.”
Same goes for the Hornets’ pinch-me-I’m-dreaming season. “Other than the birth of my children and the day I got married,” Parrish decided, “There’s nothing that compares to this. I knew that First Flight was talented. I knew they had a very good coach and I knew they hadn’t lost. But I also knew we were going to win.”
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