Suddenly the pressure ramped up on William Monroe boys soccer keeper Evan Wagner back in the net.
“I was a little nervous you know with 27 seconds left,” Wagner said. “But I’d done it all game and I knew I could continue to. I just had to hold up for that 30 more seconds until that final whistle blew.”
After David Smith broke through the Brentsville defense with a tremendous run with 27 seconds left, Brentsville only got one chance to counter and they tried to strike from way outside.
As the ball sailed into the box, Wagner elevated and connected on his most critical punchout of the night, sending the ball bouncing out of play as William Monroe closed out a 2-1 win in the Class 3, Region B quarterfinals in dramatic fashion.
“I was so excited that he handled the entry balls really well and he did a good job punching that ball out because in high school when the clock goes to zero that’s game,” Smith said.
Smith’s run, set up by an Ahmed Zaatar pass, was the difference maker. The game was deadlocked at 1-1 and appeared headed to overtime when Zaatar connected and his versatile senior classmate Smith took off, tussling with a Brentsville defender before getting a foot on the ball.
“(Zaatar) saw me getting ready to spin off and run so he pitched the ball over the top to me and then I just knew once I was running to the goal I had to put it away,” Smith said. “I’d missed one earlier so I knew I had to put that one away.”
Smith had moved all over the field during the clash that was a rubber match of two other high scoring regular season contests between the two Northwestern District squads. At the end though, he was in the right place at the exact right time.
“I know in travel soccer he plays left back and we’ve just kind of been moving him around to try and get him to take his experience and move it around the field,” said William Monroe coach Matt Dunn. “He started off in the center, then he went out on the wing and then he got a goal.”
The Dragons trailed 1-0 at halftime despite having the better of possession and chances in the first half. Two opportunities in particular, a Devon Kirssin run that included a Carter Lamm near-miss on a rebound and a point blank miss by Zaatar, stood out as Monroe kept knocking on the door. Even a particularly nice triangle combination led by Taylor Hogue that could’ve led to a goal got hit with one of a string of close offsides calls that helped hamstring the Dragons in the first half.
Brentsville then slipped in its goal with 8:43 left in the second half on a counter, leaving the Dragons down at the break.
That didn’t last long though as Lamm came up with a huge goal in the second minute of the second half to equalize. The game got chippy and heated from there as two familiar opponents took issue with each other and yellow cards started to stack up with physical play after physical play including a double yellow on a trip and extracurricular push. The Dragons managed to weather that storm and stay focused on the game for the most part.
“I’m really excited for the seniors, they’re playing really well right now and that’s a tough team in a tough game,” Dunn said. “I have to keep after them all the time because you know how boys are in the heat of the battle.”
Part of the reason they managed to battle through that physical battle was because Zaatar and Hogue were excellent in the center of the field for the Dragons. Both senior midfielders distributed well, created chance after chance and managed the game efficiently throughout as Monroe held a significant edge in possession.
“That’s 100 percent what gets us going on offense,” Smith said. “That helps me because I don’t have to do the long balls and stuff, I can run onto their play. If they can play with me and play with everyone, it makes my job a whole lot easier.”
With the defense locked in except for the single blip on a long run in the first half, Wagner kept making all the big saves he had to have, including one on a foul and one on a good Brentsville chance with 24 minutes to play.
The Dragons advance to the region semifinals, a win away clinching a state tournament berth. They’ll have to earn it on the road against No. 2 seed James Monroe Tuesday at 6 p.m.
“This is the last year for some our players that have been on the team for the longest time, since freshmen year we’ve been playing together,” Smith said. “We’ve just been looking to try and get to states. It’s a big game for us.”
— scrimmageplay (@scrimmageplay) May 26, 2018