LUMBERTON — The Lumberton Junior High boys’ soccer team was trailing at halftime in the Robeson County middle school championship game Wednesday against Magnolia in Lumberton. But after bottoming out for three consecutive tournament games, the Vikings didn’t let a one-goal deficit faze them.
Ivan Lopez scored twice in the second half and led Lumberton Junior High to a 2–1 win to become the county’s first middle school soccer champion.
“I felt like we controlled the game, about 85% of possession,” said LJH coach Daniel Humphrey. “The first goal (Magnolia) was a little bit nerve wracking but once we got rid of those nerves and got a chance to play in the second half my assistant coach said we’ll score two goals in the second half because we’ve got these guys further under put the pressure on and got back to our side of the field. And we got shots. We got like 12 shots on goal and I knew we were going to get one or two. And Ivan got through the whole year for us.”
Lopez equalized with a running goal at 25:07 in the 60-minute game. Then, with 2:22 left, Lopez put LJH (6-1-3) ahead with a shot from 20 yards that found the back of the net.
“In my head, I was thinking about taking one and shooting, and I did that on the first goal,” Lopez said. “I did that for the second goal from outside the box and the keeper didn’t do it, it was too hard.”
“He was our go-to person throughout the year,” Humphrey said. “All year round if we needed a goal he could get it for us. He also controls the middle of the field, that’s how we saw him in the middle of the game, but when we need to push him up he delivered. He’s really advanced for his age.”
LJH defeated top seed Parkton in the semifinals to advance to the championship game; third-placed Magnolia defeated second-placed Red Springs in the semifinals.
“The number 5 was fine for us because we were a bit of an underdog,” Humphrey said. “We thought we were going to be relegated but I’ve been talking to these guys for the last two weeks and I said hey hang in there, don’t hang your head when teams score and stuff. And they listened and responded well.”
Magnolia took an early 1-0 lead five minutes into the game with an Antonio Alvarado goal and maintained that lead until the break, despite the Vikings controlling possession more often.
“It’s crazy because we thought we were going to lose at halftime, but we upped our game and started trying our best, we made an effort and I just scored,” Lopez said.
The county middle school football program is in its inaugural season after years of prep, culminating in Wednesday’s championship game after Parkton won the regular-season championship.
“It’s big for all these kids; it’s the first year of football in Robeson County history and it gives these kids something to play for,” Humphrey said. “Now we have to try to defend it again next year and I have a whole team coming back. … It means something. Anyway, at our school we have a tradition of winning championships, so it’s great to start a new sport and come out victorious.”
Prospect beats Pembroke girls in PKs
After 80 minutes of football, Prospect Middle School and Pembroke were yet to be crowned champions in Wednesday’s Robeson County middle school girls’ soccer championship, sending the game 2-2 into penalties.
Prospect’s Ava Locklear and Pembroke’s Melea Freeman each made their team’s first try – then Prospect goaltender Marley McKinney stopped the next three Pembroke shots and secured victory for the Wildcats to become the county’s first middle school football champion.
“[It took]a heart. know the game. It needed lack,” Prospect coach Logan Cameron said. “It went up and down, screamed. All in all, I think it just came down to who could put the ball forward. Walking into that field I knew it was going to be a 50-50 shot; Pembroke has a good group of girls, so do we. The ball came into our corner. In the end, we came out on top with the PKs; we were lucky. I’m thankful for my goalkeeper.”
Kyndallon Oxendine gave Prospect (8-1) a 2-1 lead on penalties before McKinney’s first stop, then Rylee Chavis scored for a 3-1 lead and McKinney again saved Pembroke’s try. Prospect’s fourth penalty was saved by the Warriors, but McKinney saved the ensuing Pembroke shot to earn the win.
“I look into their eyes, which way they look, which corner; The last one the girl shot, she was looking to the corner, so I kept walking and preparing to turn to that side, which was correct,” McKinney said. “When she wanted it, I just showed up and threw my arm up and blocked it.”
“After that she started crying, we all cried,” Cameron said. “A PK is the easiest way to score in my opinion because it’s just you and the goalkeeper. That was great for her to make those saves for her team.
Pembroke (7-2) brought the game to penalties by scoring two equalizers after Prospect twice took a one-goal lead. The Wildcats led 1-0 at half-time after a first-half goal from Rylie Hammonds and Pembroke’s Grace Wilkerson struck with 21 minutes remaining to level the score at 1-1.
Oxendine scored on a 6:05 penalty that stayed in regulation for a 2-1 lead from Prospect; the Warriors responded with a goal from Sarah Hunt with 2:27 to 2:2. Neither team scored in two 10-minute overtime periods before the game was decided by penalties.
Both teams and Red Springs finished the regular season championship in a three-way tie. Pembroke defeated Red Springs in the semifinals before the Wildcats beat Pembroke, who had given them their only loss, for the championship.
“I’m so proud,” Cameron said. “I’ve played football my whole life, I’ve played here at Lumberton and if I knew anything I would know they would learn the game; I never thought they would come out of here and to be unbeaten up until the one game they lost to Pembroke – I never thought we would have such a good side, not in the first year.
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.