By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain’s men’s soccer team has had a rough time, going 0-3 last week.
The Mustangs (7-4-2, 7-3) entered the week tied for first place in the Mountain Six Conference with just one loss overall. They ended the regular season tied for second in the league after losses to East Henderson and Franklin.
In a non-conference road game, SM lost to Swain for the first time in program history.
The only thing to go right during the week was winning a coin toss with East to determine which team was second in the MSC. That allowed the Mustangs to qualify for the state 2-A playoffs as the 16th seed. They were to play at top-seeded and unbeaten Hibriten (14-0) Tuesday in the first round. Results were not known at press time.
The winner will play Hendersonville or West Wilkes today (Thursday).
East Henderson scored both goals in the first half and blanked SM 2-0 March 8 at East.
“We had opportunities,” Coach Stephen Brown said. “Even when we didn’t get shots we had opportunities and couldn’t get a body on it. In the first half they wanted it more. It was Senior Night, and they had a big crowd. We laid an egg in the first half and couldn’t string together 40 minutes. In the second half we played much better, but we were a day late and a dollar short.”
Nery Palacio opened the scoring in the 25th minute with a header off of a corner kick.
“He was unmarked,” Brown said.” “We just didn’t do our job defensively.”
Jason Pereira sent the Eagles to the locker room with momentum as he scored with about three minutes remaining in the half.
“He took a defender one on one and got by him then got one on one with the goalkeeper and was able to bury it from about 8 yards out,” Brown said.
East had a 14-9 advantage in shots. Nathan Porter made eight saves for the Mustangs, and Bobby Horton had three for the Eagles.
After a scoreless first half, Franklin spoiled SM’s Senior Night with a 3-1 win March 10 at Carr Hooper Stadium/Babe Howell Field.
“Sports are about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and we experienced both of those this year against Franklin,” Brown said. “The top four teams in our conference beat up on each other this year.”
Erik Munoz opened the scoring with an assist from Luis Torres at the 49:54 mark.
“Torres got the ball and beat his defender,” the coach said. “He played a cross in front of the goal to Munoz, and he buried it.”
Pablo Motelongo made it 2-0 when he scored from 30 yards out off a free kick at the 55:49 mark.
The Mustangs got on the board at 76:32 when Billy Ramirez scored off a corner kick from Caleb Mikey.
“That gave us some life.,” Brown said. “We had several chances late but couldn’t punch it in.”
Torres put the game away when he scored with 23.6 seconds remaining.
“There were a couple of miscues in the box on our part,” Brown said. “He took advantage of it and scored.”
SM held a 12-10 edge in shots. Porter made three saves, and Isaac Jennings had four for the Panthers.
“My heart goes out to our seniors and everything they have dealt with this year with a COVID shortened season,” the coach said. “Workouts began in June. It was almost like we were exhausted before the season started. I really admire the character of our boys and how they endured and stuck with it. It was a tough way for conference play to end.”
In a make up of a game postponed earlier in the season, Swain rallied from a 2-0 halftime deficit to win 3-2 and defeat the Mustangs for the first time in program history last Thursday in Bryson City.
“This game was on me,” Brown said. “I shouldn’t have rescheduled it for the day after we played our rivals.
“We dominated the first half, but the second half was a different story,” he said. “Their gameplan was to park the bus in front of their box and rely on quick counterattacks. They hurt us with counterattacks in the second half. We let guys get in behind us.”
SM led 1-0 at halftime after Billy Ramirez scored in the 10th minute off a long throw-in by Hunter Pressley.
“The ball bounced in the box,” Brown said. “Billy found it at his feet and punched it in from 5 yards out.”
The Mustangs made it 2-0 in the 44th minute as Skyler Sutton scored following another long throw-in by Pressley.
“The ball was deflected, and Skyler finished it right in front of the net,” Brown said.
Just about a minute later, the Maroon Devils cut the gap to 2-1 as Landon Matz got in behind the defense and scored after being one on one with the goalkeeper.
Chase Burrell’s header off of Zachary Cline’s corner kick tied it 2-2 in the 58th minute.
“We just didn’t mark him,” Brown said.
Matz scored the winning goal in the 65th minute.
“The keeper threw the ball to Cline, who was unmarked and off to the races,” the coach said. “He found Matz with a through ball behind our defense. He was again one on one with the keeper and finished it off.”
SM had a 12-9 edge in shots. Porter made two saves, and Swain’s Noel Wolf had three.
The Mustangs JVs finished their season 6-0-2 with 1-0 wins over East and Franklin.
Cesar Garcia scored off of Sawyer Snider’s assist against East. Carson Seagraves made five saves.
Aundrel Byfield scored against the Panthers. Seagraves again made five saves, and Mathias Saunooke had one.
“We’ve got a great group of guys coming up ,” Brown said of the JVs. “Those young men took care of business. There were a lot of practices where they were missing five or six teammates when we would bring up players for varsity games. They pieced together some great wins.”