WOODSTOCK – They’re 13-0. They have only conceded two goals all season and have just defeated what is probably their toughest district opponent for the second time.
The Clarke County boys’ soccer team is in the middle of another incredible regular season. The Eagles defeated Central 3-0 away on Tuesday night.
Clarke County started slowly. They didn’t get their first shot on goal until the 15th minute of the first half, although they dominated possession for most of the game. However, once the Eagles settled in, they were able to create chances and take them.
Clarke County head coach Patrick Casey said one of the reasons for the slow start was a slightly different starting lineup. Freshman defenseman Brody Murphy missed the game through illness and senior defenseman Colin Moran was unable to play through injury. Casey said every time he changes the back five, everyone has to adapt.
“Once they settled in, they were great tonight,” he explained.
The whole team seemed to settle in after about 15 minutes of action. That’s when the Eagles found their first shot on goal. Senior midfielder Menes Ajyeman sent a lead ball to junior Christopher LeBlanc. LeBlanc then headed the ball towards center field, giving senior Caleb Neiman a shooting opportunity. Neiman’s shot was stopped by a skidding Aiden Mercer.
Mercer made several saves in the game, including two more shots in the next two minutes. Clarke County didn’t find the back of the net until the 17th minute of the first half when LeBlanc defeated a defender with his first touch and then arced the ball around Mercer, who had come out to challenge him. After the game, LeBlanc credited teammate Ajyeman for the pass, which set up the goal.
“He played a nice through ball,” said LeBlanc when asked what he remembered of his first goal.
The Eagles’ second goal came through the foot of Neiman, who placed a close shot past Mercer. That goal came with five minutes left in the first half and allowed Clarke County to go into the half-time break with a 2-0 lead.
LeBlanc scored Clarke’s third and final goal with 22 minutes remaining. This came from a pass from Junior Leo Morris.
“I was screaming for the ball the whole time,” LeBlanc said when asked about his second goal.
Morris was able to find him, and with Mercer challenging the shooter, LeBlanc threw the ball over the keeper with a satisfying, soft touch to score the goal.
Central had a few chances of their own in the game, but they couldn’t close them against Clarke’s stingy defense, which has only conceded two goals all season. Junior Michael Williams was able to force a defensive turnover after just nine minutes, but his shot sailed just over the goal.
Then, in the second half, senior Gerardo Perez passed Clarke’s defense and was the first to get to one of Mercer’s punts. His first touch sent the Eagles keeper running out of position, but he couldn’t take the chance. The shot sailed just over the net again.
“If a few things go differently, at least it’s a closer result,” said Central head coach John Trelawny. “We’ve always had this game circled on our calendar in a very special way because we knew we were their premier competition in the district and region.”
Trelawny added that he hopes the Falcons get a chance to play the Eagles again and hopes they can take some of those chances next time.
The 3-0 final is a good win for Clarke, but even immediately after the game, LeBlanc and Coach Casey mentioned how last season ended. Instead of focusing on their most recent win, both spent time talking about the Eagles’ most recent loss — a state semifinals competition last year.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Casey said of the season as a whole, “but we’re working very, very hard to make sure what happened last year in the postseason doesn’t happen again.”
Casey added that playing against strong local teams like Class 3A Waynesboro and Bull Run District opponents like Strasburg and Central can help with that. However, his own team is also an important part of the competition the Eagles want to see.
Last season, the Clarke County college team had 16 or 17 players. There are 22 people in the roster this year, just enough for a full 11-on-11 scrimmage. Casey said it was a deliberate decision and he uses intrasquad scrimmages as a tool on weeks when the team doesn’t have multiple games due.
“It gives us an advantage in the way we can train,” Casey explained.
Casey and his team are hoping this Edge can help them get into the postseason this year. Both Casey and LeBlanc made the target pretty obvious. End the season with a win, not a loss, and bring a state title to Berryville.
“This year we plan to finish it,” LeBlanc said.