Smithfield and Great Bridge longed for places in the Class 4 boys soccer state championship game that would’ve set up a rematch of their Region A final. Both were denied in overtime Friday.
Alex Keeton’s goal with 2 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the second sudden-death overtime gave Western Albemarle a 2-1 victory over defending state champion Smithfield in one semifinal. Jefferson Forest scored two goals in the final four minutes of the second overtime to beat Great Bridge 3-1.
Western Albemarle 2, Smithfield 1 (4 OTs): Smithfield was so close to a game-deciding penalty shootout that Packers coach Jason Henderson was beginning to consider his list of five shooters. But the Warriors’ Daniel Sanchez passed to Keeton in the box for the goal that dethroned the Packers (16-4-1).
Western Albemarle (19-2-2) struck first in the evenly played game as Sam Vigilante slotted William Graham’s pass into the goal with 9:53 to play in the first half. Smithfield’s Gino Fontana evened the score at 1 in the second half off of a pass from Omesine Muepu.
The Packers’ defense held fast thereafter behind the play of center-backs Bryson Forrest and Jaylen Marble. “They were terrific,” Smithfield coach Jason Henderson said.
Whit Dunlevy led the Packers’ attack from the midfield and Muepu threatened the Warriors’ goal on numerous occasions, but to no avail. The Packers lose 11 seniors after graduating 13 from the 2021 state champs, but Muepu, who earned Region A Player of the Year honors on the strength of 20 goals and 18 assists, will be back.
“We gave it everything we had, but [Western Albemarle] was definitely a quality team across the board,” Henderson said. “What we did this year was a great accomplishment.
“I’m very proud of our team.”
Jefferson Forest 3, Great Bridge 1 (2 OTs): Great Bridge coach Scott Wright said Friday’s game was a carbon copy of the season. “We got the better of the possession, but we struggled to score, which has been a problem all year.”
And yet, the Wildcats (14-4-2) nearly salvaged victory from the jaws of defeat in their first state tournament trip. Trailing 1-0 with less than 10 seconds to play in regulation, Cameron Todd beat several JF defenders and scored a goal to tie the game at 1 just before the whistle to force overtime.
“We felt that gave us the momentum and we thought we might be a team of destiny,” Wright said. “We felt good going into overtime and we felt good if it went into a penalty shootout after just winning one [in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday against Chancellor].”
But OT never came. Wright lamented a bad bounce off his player that resulted in Walker Stebbings’ second goal of the match with four minutes left in the second overtime.
Forced to throw all into attack to equalize, the Wildcats got caught on the counterattack as Jaren Lee broke through for a goal.
“I thought we played as good a game as we’ve played all year, so we have nothing to hang our heads about,” said Wright, noting that his team returns eight of 11 starters and will welcome lots of young talent to the varsity next year. “I think we have a chance to be back in this spot the next three or four years.”