Wednesday’s district soccer championship match could not have started better for the Cape Central Tigers. As the match began at Farmington High School, the North County Raiders kicked off, but 14 seconds later, Cape Central took a 1-0 lead. After that, it was a stifling defense and an opportunistic offense that allowed the Raiders to pull the upset, defeating the #1 seed Tigers, 2-1.
On the opening kickoff, CHS’s senior TK Ayers intercepted a pass and streaked down the near sideline. Ayers sent a cross that was buried by Kaya Newkirk, and just like that, the Tigers led 1-0, 14 seconds into the contest. Ironically, the Raiders didn’t heed their coach’s final exhortation to “Be awake…they’re going to come right at you and attack.” To North County’s credit, they didn’t seem to let the early mistake affect them. The first half saw them repel several different Cape Central pushes, and both teams went to the halftime break with the Tigers still holding that slim 1-0 lead.
The match was a physical one, and the fans on both sides were vocal about the officiating. And, unfortunately, calls that went against the Tigers came back to haunt them in the second half.
At the 44:27 mark, North County was able to tie the match at 1-1 when a Tiger defender had a shot hit his hand. That allowed a penalty kick, and the North County player placed his kick in the left corner of the goal, just out of the reach of Cape Central goalie Alex Powderly.
The Tigers quickly responded as Newkirk had a nice look after a pass from Logan Mizicko. But the Raiders’ goalie calmly punched the high shot out of harm’s way. At the 59:10 mark, a North County throw-in resulted in a centering in the midst of several players. The ball found its way in the goal after a flurry of action. As the Raiders celebrated their go-ahead goal, the Tigers were appealing to the officials that the ball went off the hand of a North County attacker. There was no call, and the Tigers found themselves down with under 21 minutes to go.
Ayers would have an excellent chance to tie it with about 15 minutes to go, but his shot just missed. Cape Central was doing all it could to get scoring opportunities, especially trying to find Newkirk, but the Raiders’ defense really clamped down. As the buzzer sounded, North County players erupted in celebration, while the Tigers were left stunned. Their season full of promise was all of a sudden over, and a team that had powered its way to a 15-5-1 record and a top seed, could only think of a lot of “what ifs.”
“We didn’t play our best, and there were a few questionable calls from the ref on their goals,” said senior Nate Albertson. “But we still should’ve connected passes better, and won more 50/50 balls.”
There was no question words were hard to come by from the student-athletes. Nine seniors played their final match for the Tigers. Wyatt Gerard, Lucas Grammar, Albertson, Newkirk, Trenton Berck, Jack Zhong, Zach Moore, Ayers, and Dalton Upchurch put so much time and effort into the program.
“It was definitely a tough loss, and it sucks to say that was my last high school soccer game,” Ayers bluntly stated. “But I know, just like the other seniors, that we have to keep our heads and remember to keep pushing forward.”
Newkirk, who’s scoring prowess is known throughout the state, will be a weapon that will be missed. All he could come back with was, “It sucks. I thought we had more in store for us, but that’s just the way of the game sometimes.”
The fact that these young men made themselves available at such a time speaks volumes about their character. It’s in the culture at Cape Central. The Tigers ended their season with a 15-6-1 mark. North County will go on to play either Hillsboro or Windsor next Tuesday.
It’s been a pleasure covering the Tigers this fall. Congratulations on a fine season.