Nov. 16—The winter air had everyone seeing their own breath on Tuesday evening as the No. 1 Hobbton Wildcats hosted the No. 3 North Moore Mustangs. The Wildcats hit the first goal and battled for the final two goals in the second half. Hobbton shot for the moon and took down the opposition, clearing the way to the State finals, 3-1.
To begin this physically demanding affair, both teams fought to strike first. Neither team was able to score despite the promising plays from both sides. Speed was the theme in this contest as Henry Jorge put the Mustangs on their heels after he sprinted along the edge but was shunted by the North Moore centerbacks. The reverse would happen for Moore who managed to dance around the defenders and take a shot.
The cluttered the Hobbton space and sent a sneaky roller that Wildcat Anthony Sandoval managed to catch and scoop up. The Wildcats would break through and counter with another breakout. This advance had the visiting audience gasp as the Mustang line collapsed, allowing for a one on one with the goalie. He'd make the save throwing his body on the line and a Mustang and Wildcat fell on the full send sprint. This action was maintained for the first ten minutes of the match.
After the initial sprints by the teams, a lull took place with no shots attempted as the teams began studying the other's movements, looking for a weakness. Jorge would break through again off a slick pass from Mario Galeano. The opportunity nullified as the side judge's flag came down in a hurry, signifying an offsides violation. Hobbton had found their target and exploited the slower center backs sending passes to the edge, then back to the center, catching the Mustangs flat footed. This advance was shunted after a questionable tackle.
With 16 minutes left in the first, Moore had been fouled by a hard tackle from the Wildcats and set up shop about 20 yards from the goal. The shot was taken and this time the home audience gasped as they watched the ball take off on target to the net. The spin however, curved the ball away from the net and just shy of the near post, keeping the match deadlocked. The Mustangs took another stab at a goal after a botched transition pass was picked off and taken to the Hobbton side. The striker slotted a shot to the far corner but Sandoval was there with the dive to keep the sheet clean. With renewed vigor, the Wildcats were creating multiple opportunitites at this time, with the Galeano and Jorge combo causing trouble for the Mustangs.
It was too much for North Moore. With less than five minutes left, Hobbton finally cracked the armor of the Mustangs with a trio of headers off a free kick from shallow Moore territory. The ball was popped up off the noggins of the Wildcats thrice before Jorge finally found the back of the net, erupting the home crowd with cheers with them drawing first blood, 1-0. Time ran out on the clock and they entered the break carrying a tenuous one goal lead.
After halftime, Hobbton came out and brought an array of passes and new alleys to traverse the Mustang defense. Within three minutes, Galeano and Jorge made a terrific run that fell apart after the pass to the center found the feet of a North Moore player. They quickly recovered the ball and ran the advance once again this time, they'd make it count. The Mustang keeper came out too far in anticipation but disregarded the space behind him. Galeano put the perfect pass at Jorge's feet and he easily scored on the open net to put the Cats up 2-0.
The Mustangs handled the ball better following the second goal and retained possession, rendering the ravenous Wildcats inert. This paid off as the Mustangs finally made good on their opportunities. Javier Mellado slipped past the backline with some fancy footwork despite the tough resistance. He'd send a quick roller that caught Sandoval off guard and he was just shy of another save. Now separated by only one, the tenacity from both sides was apparent.
It didn't take long after that before bodies of players began falling to ground. The pitch became a battlefield with harder shoulder bumps and slide tackles. The aggression kept everyone on their toes as they were hoping to keep the yellow cards in the main judge's pocket. To avoid the confrontation, Hobbton began resorting to some creative air passes and their relentless assault toward the net continued. Another opportunity was created with Jorge taking another shot with a header that skimmed past the net.
A big time tackle that stopped the Wildcats dead in their tracks. This tackle was deemed a foul and the referee approached the player. The desperate attempt to sway the ref from reaching for a card was dismissed and he was issued his second yellow of the evening, resulting in a red card issued and an ejection from the game, with 17 minutes left in play.
North Moore now running a player down, fatigue quickly set in and Hobbton had completely taken over. Jorge would take advantage of the dimissal and sent another goal in, effectively ending the match with less than five left in the match. Despite the disadvantage, the Mustangs continued to try and run full steam, but they were running on fumes. The clock struck zeroes and the roar from the home crowd could be heard for what felt like miles with raucous cheer as the Wildcats earned a spot in the finals with a 3-1 victory.
The Wildcats will have a couple of days to prepare for their big moment as they represent Newton Grove and Sampson County. They will face the No. 3 Gray Stone Day Knights, who advanced off a 1-0 victory over the No. 1 Thomas Jefferson Gryphons on the pitch on Saturday out at Brown's Summit North Carolina at MacPherson Stadium. Game time is set for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 18.
Reach Anthony McConnaughey at email@example.com or on Twitter @SportsSampson