The Marvin Ridge boys soccer team began the season in August with one goal: win a state championship. The Mavericks accomplished that goal on Saturday, Nov. 16, in a bittersweet ending for 10 seniors who helped contribute to the 6-5 nail-biter victory over defending Class 3A N.C. High School Athletic Association champ Jacksonville.
The Mavericks have dominated on the field all season with an aggressive offense and stingy defense that shut out 12 teams. They possess a perfect combination of talent, which proved to be powerful enough to bring home a championship for the first time since 2009.
Saturday’s championship game was the highest-scoring North Carolina High School Athletic Association boys soccer final in history. But in typical championship fashion, the Maverick win didn’t come easily.
The Cardinals scored the first goal of the game in the first three minutes, but after Maverick nerves settled, they took the lead with four unanswered goals and took a 4-1 score into halftime. Despite their comfortable lead, coach Jason Zak said he wasn’t satisfied with his team’s performance in the first 45 minutes.
“At halftime, the guys probably thought I was going crazy,” Zak said. “We went into the locker room and I was looking for a chair to kick because I was so frustrated. Yeah, we had a 4-1 lead but we were playing sloppy, hesitant and I was really just disappointed. I knew we weren’t doing what we were capable of. I knew Jacksonville was strong and that they were going to come back fighting. I told the guys at halftime, ‘Right now, in our minds, the score is 0-0.’”
Zak’s insight was right, as the Cardinals came out of the half and scored three straight goals to tie the game at 4-4 in the 70th minute.
“My heart was sinking,” Zak said. “I looked at our assistant coach and said, ‘Well, here we go.’”
In the last 15 minutes of the game, a stroke of bad luck hit the Mavs as senior midfielder Kyle Enoch, one of the Mavericks leading scorers, went down with an ankle injury and had to be helped off the field. Just a few minutes later, after taping and wrapping his ankle, Enoch approached Zak ready to get back out on the field, not wanting to miss another second of his last game as a high school soccer player.
“We had a back-and-forth exchange that was pretty heated,” Zak said. “I wasn’t going to let him play if he was injured, but Kyle wasn’t going to take no for an answer. So hesitantly, I decided to let him back in.”
It’s a good thing, too. Even with an injured ankle, Enoch scored on an assist by Will Green just seconds after going back in the game and the Mavs took a 5-4 lead.
The Cardinals responded with a goal just one minute later, and the score tied again at 5. The anticipation on the field, sidelines and bleachers began quickly rising as the time on the clock drew closer toward the final
“With only two minutes left, I literally thought I was going to die,” Zak said, laughing. “But you know, the one thing we’ve preached all year is to never give up, have faith and believe in the things we can do. And I realized with a few minutes left that I didn’t have that. It hit me that I wasn’t believing in our team. At that point, I realized I needed to have faith in our guys. It was almost like an out-of-body experience and I looked out on the field and knew we could do it.”
Just a few seconds after Zak’s epiphany, Klint Parker scored the game winning goal with 1:26 left in the game.
“It was surreal. Even 24 hours later I didn’t believe it. But there couldn’t have been a script that was better written, of the game and our season. We’ve expected and respected hard work all season and a championship win couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group of guys,” Zak said.
The victory capped off the best Marvin Ridge soccer season since 2009, as they finished 22-1-1 and brought home the second state title in the school’s seven-year history. Green and Parker made the Class 3A all-state team and Enoch was elected the game’s Most Valuable Player.
“What a warrior that kid is,” Zak said.
The win was bittersweet for the members of the senior class, who undoubtedly lead the Mavericks through their dominating season. Green finished his season with 24 goals and 12 assists. Parker contributed 24 goals and 14 assists while Enoch added 18 goals and 17 assists. Daniel Smith led the Mavs in assists, with 18, and added eight goals. Senior defenders Jason Corday, Eric Newsome and Chris Conneely held opponents to an average of 1.2 goals per game.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a dream come true,” Zak said. “As a coach, you always hope for a realistic opportunity to win a state championship. I think this was the best validation of a lot of hard work, effort and determination that we’ve put in over years and years.”