Carson Cougars knock off defending champ Marvin Ridge
CHINA GROVE — Carson’s boys soccer team believes it can play with anybody and is walking the walk.
On Tuesday, the Cougars made a long haul to Waxhaw to take on Marvin Ridge and returned to China Grove with a Hall of Fame victory. They beat the defending state champs and the preseason No. 1 in 3A.
That 2-1 win qualified as the biggest regular-season moment in program history, but it won’t get any easier tonight when the Cougars visit South Iredell. That’s the school that beat Carson in the third round of the postseason in 2013.
“It’s like we’re starting this season with the playoffs,” coach Justin Buckwalter said. “The drives are like the playoffs, and Tuesday’s game had a playoff atmosphere. It was a good win Tuesday, but we’ve got to move on from it right away.”
Carson dominated possession in the first half against Marvin Ridge but allowed a soft goal — a left-footed shot that snuck under Carson’s keeper.
“That was a goal out of nowhere,” said 5-foot-5 senior Fidel Flores, the center back who anchors Carson’s defense. “But we were able to put it behind us and keep going.”
Carson answered quickly with two goals in a five-minute span.
Sophomore midfielder Raunel Vasquez got the Cougars level with a “laser from 30 yards out to the upper left corner,” as Buckwalter described it.
Brandon Flores, Fidel’s cousin and a talented junior forward, put Carson ahead to stay with an improbable shot.
“Brandon had an awful angle, but he took on a defender and made the shot side net and far post,” Buckwalter said.
Brandon Flores was All-State as a sophomore.
“We’ve got a lot of very good players, but Brandon is an upper echelon guy,” Buckwalter said. “He’s lightning in a bottle and he has an ability to finish that sets him apart. He’s instinctive. He rarely does the same thing twice. If a keeper adjusts to what he did the first time Brandon beat him, he’ll score again in a different way. He’s very good one-on-one and he’s good from long distance.”
Brandon Flores found the back of the net 39 times for the Cougars as a sophomore and added 11 assists. He added seven goals in preseason jamborees as Carson warmed up for this season.
“Brandon is very skilled, very fast with the ball,” his cousin, Fidel, said.
But even with a striker such as Brandon Flores, Carson didn’t threaten much in a scoreless second half at Marvin Ridge.
“We didn’t play nearly as well in the second half,” said Buckwalter, a Pennsylvania native who came to the area to play for Catawba. “Marvin Ridge didn’t have many chances until late, but those last five minutes they had us back on our heels. We didn’t do what we’d talked about. We were just hanging on.”
But Fidel Flores, who can bench press 225 pounds, contained a prolific scorer with en eight-inch height advantage, and the Cougars did hang on for their breakthrough win.
“We all got tired at the end,” Fidel Flores said. “But to win was a great feeling. That team was on their home field and it was their first game as defending state champions. They didn’t want to lose, but we showed that Carson has good soccer players.”
Buckwalter described the emotional roller coaster after the Cougars won.
“At first, there was just relief in the huddle that we’d held on,” he said. “And then I reminded them how poorly they’d played in the second half.”
It got quiet for a few seconds, but as he broke from that solemn huddle Buckwalter turned and told his team, “OK guys, now you can celebrate.”
And they did.
As tough a road as the Cougars have chosen to travel — their first home game is Tuesday against strong 4A Lake Norman — there should be plenty of celebrations ahead.
“It’s a confidence thing and winning at Marvin Ridge added confidence,” Buckwalter said, “As coaches, we tell these kids how good they are. Now you can see in their eyes that they’re starting to believe it.”
Notes: Buckwalter is married to former South Rowan athlete and coach Cassie Siege. They’re expecting another addition to the family soon. The due date is Sept. 3. … Carson and the county’s traditional power — defending 2A state champ Salisbury — aren’t currently scheduled to meet, but Buckwalter is optimistic that will change. Salisbury’s schedule was booked, but two nights came open on the calendar due to North Rowan not fielding a team. “That’s a game we’d like to play,” Buckwalter said.
Carson was very young but very good last year, 17-5 overall and 13-3 champions of a balanced SPC. Carson actually lost twice to Hickory Ridge, but Hickory Ridge lost twice to Concord. The Spiders in turn, lost twice to Cox Mill, which lost twice to Carson.
Buckwalter still has only three seniors, two of whom start, but the Cougars entered the season ranked 10th in 3A.