CHAPEL HILL — Earning its 20th straight win, No. 1-seeded Chapel Hill avoided the pitfalls of playing a proverbial much-better-than-their-record underdog Wednesday and blew past No. 8-seeded South Brunswick 4-1 in a third-round game of the N.C. High School Athletics Association soccer playoffs.
After a scoreless and potentially frustrating first half, with the Tigers accumulating a 16-1 advantage in shots, Chapel Hill pierced the Cougars’ tightly packed defense with unassisted goals 22 seconds apart – from Ben Fisher at the 36-minute, 2-second mark, and Alex Walker at 35:40.
Connor Albrecht added an unassisted goal with 11:11 left to give Chapel Hill a 3-1 lead, and Chris Greaney finished the scoring 2:22 later off a ball curled across the box by Nate Hebert.
With the win, Chapel Hill (24-1-1) advances to the 3A regional semifinals for the third time in five years, where it will face No. 4 Jacksonville (18-4-1). South Brunswick (7-11-3) had never reached the third round before Wednesday.
Despite their losing record, the Cougars emerged as the top 3A team from the 4A-3A Mideastern Conference after playing a brutal schedule that included state powers Wilmington Hoggard, Wilmington Laney and New Bern as league opponents.
“There’s no question that playing those 4A teams made us better,” South Brunswick coach Patrick Lawson said. “Our goal since before the season was to get to the third round for the first time. It was tough, but we made it here.”
Chapel Hill finished the lopsided game with a 32-3 edge in shots, 19-0 in corner kicks.
Cougars goalkeeper Mason Berne saved 15 shots, some of them at almost point-blank range, to keep the match close for 45 minutes.
“Their keeper made at least five saves that usually would have been goals,” Chapel Hill coach Ron Benson said. “And it’s not as if we were just launching stuff at him from 40 yards out. But we were doing the right things, and sooner or later the law of averages was going to catch up with them.”
South Brunswick startled the home crowd barely 70 seconds into the match when Ryan Dail broke behind the Chapel Hill defense and launched a hard shot from 17 yards, banging it off the cross-bar. It was a template of the South Brunswick Cougars’ strategy for the rest of the night: pack defenders in the box and try to score off long counterattacks.
“They have some excellent athletes, and their instructions were basically to boot the ball forward and run fast after it,” Benson said. “That’s what they did.”
South Brunswick snapped Chapel Hill’s string of eight straight shutouts when Cougars defender Michael Hitt scored on a 70-yard free kick with 27:14 to play. That made South Brunswick the first team to score on the Tigers since they beat 4A East Chapel Hill 4-1 on Oct. 4.
Chapel Hill goalkeeper Justus Heizer, trying to back up in traffic inside the box, fell backward as Hitt’s ball bounced over him and into the goal.
“Giving up a shutout is never good,” Chapel Hill defender Chandler Weedon said. “But the main thing tonight was to win and advance. We did that.”
Carrboro rallies for comeback win on the road
Playing on Tuesday night, No. 7-seeded Carrboro came up with three unanswered goals in the second half at No. 2 Washington and came away with a 3-2 victory in a NCHSAA 2A third-round game.
Carrboro’s upset win snapped Washington’s unbeaten streak of 12 games.
The Pam Pack (18-2-2) caught Carrboro off-guard early, scoring a goal just 49 seconds into the match and another barely 33 minutes later.
Marc Rovner emerged as the match’s key player, scoring Carrboro’s first goal and also what proved to be the game-winner.
With Carrboro down 2-0, Rovner got the Jaguars on the board 5:55 into the second half with a goal scored off an assist from Ywa Moo.
Luke Hickey tied the game at 2-2 with 26:55 left on the clock, assisted by Nico Krachefels.
Rovner put Carrboro up 3-2 with his unassisted goal at 10:27 left.
The Jaguars’ win, their 13th in 14 games, put Carrboro (16-5-2) in a regional semifinal match Saturday at No. 3 Clinton (21-3-2).
Wolves explore new ground in 1A playoffs
In the 1A playoffs, Woods Charter broke new ground for its soccer program with last Wednesday's 3-2 victory over Granville Central. That moved the Wolves into the NCHSAA tournament’s fourth round – the farthest any Woods Charter program has advanced into any postseason event.
Seeded No. 5, Woods Charter (17-3) was to host a game Saturday at 2 p.m. in Big Woods Park against fellow North Central Atlantic Conference member Raleigh Charter (19-5), seeded No. 7 in the 1A East.
Raleigh and Woods Charter shared the NCAC championship, splitting their regular season meetings and both going 12-2 in conference games. The Wolves earned the slightly higher postseason seed – and the home-field advantage – with their better overall winning percentage.