Boys’ soccer: Briar Woods, Tuscarora fall in Virginia AA semifinals

Following each of Briar Woods’s losses this season, it didn’t take long for Falcons Coach Francois Bernard to see what his team had learned in defeat. The Falcons displayed a resolve that produced a Region II title and their first trip to the final four of the Virginia AA boys’ soccer state tournament.

Saturday’s semifinal contest at Radford yielded a similar dose of wisdom, albeit an unforgiving one, as the Falcons fell, 1-0, to E.C. Glass in what amounted to an evenly played defensive battle.

“The game of soccer is not fair sometimes,” Bernard said. “Both defenses held well, but they just buried the one chance they had.”

After 40 minutes of scoreless play, the Hilltoppers broke the drought when Jack Valentine found Matt McAden just ahead of the Falcons’ defense on the left side. The junior midfielder turned the rare opening into a goal, booting a shot into the right pocket of the net.

The Falcons (16-7-1) worked furiously to respond, spacing the field and attacking the seams to create seven corner kicks. On the sixth corner, Jimmy Grace met the ball near its peak and headed a hard shot toward the goal. But the effort sailed just high, knocking the ball — and with it, the Falcons’ chances at a rally — off the crossbar in the game’s final minutes.


Tuscarora's Angel Ceron-Garcia, left, heads the ball against Blacksburg's Mitchell Williams as Blacksburg defeats Tuscarora 4 - 0 in Saturday’s Virginia AA semifinal at Radford. (John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST)

“Both teams had chances; it’s just they were able to finish one of theirs,” Grace said. “This team was really a family, where everyone fought hard. For me, as a senior, this was a special team to be a part of.”

BLACKSBURG 4, TUSCARORA 0: The power, the trajectory, the open space in the net — it all seemed to line up for Tuscarora’s shot attempt near the end of Saturday’s first half in the first Virginia AA semifinal of the day at Radford. And even when the ball slammed off the left post, it appeared the Huskies would conjure up more opportunities with their sound play.

But in a whirlwind three-minute span, Blacksburg netted two goals to steal the momentum and pave the way for a 4-0 victory. The win avenges the Bruins’ loss to Tuscarora in last year’s state semifinal.

“I think the first half overall went very good for us and we felt pretty confident at halftime,” Huskies Coach Dave Gryder said. “But once they got that first goal on a hustle play, it changed the momentum. At this stage, every team is good, so it’s hard to dig yourself out of a hole.”

Less than four minutes into the second half, Blacksburg’s Mitchell Williams sent a through ball to Bradford Mills, who knocked a shot into the net. Three minutes later, Williams struck again, faking before firing a long right-footed shot into the goal for a 2-0 Bruins’ lead.

To thwart Tuscarora’s counter attempts, Blacksburg double-teamed top scorer and All-Met Angel Ceron-Garcia, disturbing the Huskies’ (21-2-2) offensive firepower. On the other end, Blacksburg added to its advantage on a Geinda Smith penalty kick and another close-range goal by Mills.

“Who knows what happens if we score that goal in the first half?” Gryder said. “This team came into the season ready to work hard and finish off what they started last year when we lost in the final. We started off well, but today just ended up not being our day.”

Brandon Parker is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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