In the most physical game of his high school career, Tuscarora (Va.) freshman striker Diego Rodriguez took shot after shot in the open field against Heritage Tuesday night, including a collision with one of the Pride’s bulkiest players, senior Jacob Thiel, at the end of the first half that solicited a collective “ooh” from the home crowd.
“I’m just a freshman,” Rodriguez said, with a shy smile after the game.
He was anything but bashful on the pitch Tuesday. Rodriguez, with his oversized jersey untucked all game, was youthful and daring in response to a rough-and-tumble game, scoring the clinching goal off a diving header in the 60th minute to lift the sixth-ranked Huskies to a 2-0 win in a AA Dulles District contest in Leesburg.
“He doesn’t quit,” said Tuscarora Coach Dave Gryder.
Rodriguez’s goal, just his third of the year, was critical on a night when the Huskies’ two best scorers, Sergio Resendiz and Angel Ceron-Garcia (each with four goals this season) struggled to get clean looks at the net. Tuesday’s game was in danger of ending with the same result as last week’s meeting between the two teams — a 1-1 draw that was every bit the grind.
But Tuscarora (6-0-2, 5-0-2) was also playing in just its third home game of the season — on a wider surface than the one played on at Heritage (4-2-1, 2-2-1) last week. And that was key when Rodriguez made his move behind the Pride back line in the middle of the second half. With a sharp diagonal cut at the net, he perfectly timed a header on a deep cross from the right side of the field that handcuffed Heritage’s goalkeeper when the ball hit the right corner of the net from 10 feet out.
“I snaked into the defense,” Rodriguez said. “I, like, flew in the air to head it. And it went in.”
Tuscarora’s Kevin Nerio added an insurance goal with less than two minutes to play, courtesy of an assist from Ceron-Garcia, giving Gryder’s team its sixth multi-goal game of the season.
It was a disappointing end to a promising start for Heritage, which played exactly the way Gryder thought they would earlier Tuesday, a “chasing and running” style of attack that put pressure on the talented Huskies. But the cut from Rodriguez changed everything in the middle of the second half between the rivals.
“We didn’t have the team chemistry,” said Heritage defender Stephen Hrebenach, who anchored the Pride’s physical defensive outfit with a white-cast on his injured right wrist.
“The hardest thing is to lose to Tuscarora,” he said.