Cougars take wind out of Cyclones for district title

By Allen LaMountain

ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
alamountain@starhq.com
  
   BLOUNTVILLE -- An early surge by the Elizabethton Cyclones saw 'Betsy and Sullivan Central deadlocked at 2-2 at the break of their District 1-AA soccer championship match played Thursday night at Central High.
   The Cyclones however, could not keep the pace in the second half as the Cougars scored three unanswered goals in a 5-2 win that gives Central an unbeaten record going into the regional tournament next week.
   Central goes into the regional with a home game and a stellar 15-0-2 record, and will face the loser of the District 2-AA match between Gatlinburg-Pittman and Chuckey-Doak, while EHS (8-6-3) must now hit the road to face that contest's winner.
   Perhaps Tuesday's physical, exhausting overtime match against Sullivan North took some of the spring from the legs of the Cyclones, but there also seemed to be a distinct lack of intensity as well in the second half, as 'Betsy had no answer for goals by Central's Luke Avery and Dustin Cross.
   "They beat us to the ball all day," said Cyclones head coach Bill McClay. "We watched the game more than played it. We were sluggish -- I don't know, maybe the overtime game took too much out of them. We got up on them by a goal, twice in fact, but we just never seemed to want to put it away."
   A muddy, sloppy field saw players fight for traction at times, and provided some clean breakaway opportunities for both sides, but it was 'Betsy that struck first blood on an unassisted goal from Luke Carrier at the six-minute mark of play.
   Carrier took advantage of some sloppy defense by Central as two defenders failed to clear the ball from the goal box and Carrier pounced on the miscue.
   Just one minute later however, Watauga Conference MVP Colin Campbell got the Cougars even as EHS found itself guilty of failing to clear the ball out of its end.
   Campbell was unchecked near the box and fired a low blast to Cyclone keeper David Poston's right, where it found the back of the net.
   "We knew we would have to come out strong and give it all we had," said Campbell. "We were down early and had to come back, and we had to show intensity and attitude. It means a lot for us to finish as unbeaten district champs, and now we get to play a home game in the regional and that's real important."
   At the 25-minute mark the Cougars made a critical error, and it cost them dearly. 'Betsy's Michael Tierney was awarded a penalty kick for being taken down in the box, and his shot sailed high and to Central goalkeeper Daniel Graves left and into the upper corner of the net to stake EHS to a 2-1 lead.
   The Cyclone good fortune didn't last long though as Campbell struck again just two minutes later for Central. 'Betsy was called for a handball in the box, and Campbell made good on his penalty kick, beating Poston low and to his right to knot things up at 2-2 going into the break.
   "We made a defensive adjustment at halftime," said Cougars head coach Joe McPherson. "I'm not going to tell you what it was because we may have to play these guys again next Thursday. I will tell you that the players are the ones that pulled it off. They made the adjustment work. Guys like Bucky Buchanan, Andrew Doran and Ben Wright did a good job for us on defense.
   "In the first half, the defense didn't seem to know who or where or what was going on. In the second half those guys put up a serious wall. Nothing got past them, and they never left anyone open. I never could have imagined (the adjustment) would have worked so well."
   It was all Central in the second half as 'Betsy seemed off on this night, and the Cyclones were never able to really mount much of a threat offensively while Central seemed to be just getting cranked up.
   "We may have reverted to what we were doing early in the season," said McClay. "The game was tight at the half, but there was something lacking intensity-wise. The big thing was that we talked about the importance of getting ahead on them, which we did, but once we got up we didn't seem to want to keep them down."
   Luke Avery put a shot into the 'Betsy nets at the 44-minute mark of regulation as he sent a shot from outside the box, but directly in front of the net and his rainbow shot from 25 yards out gave the Cougars a lead they would never relinquish.
   Cross put in a pair of goals in the closing minutes, with his second goal showing the difference in the two teams play on this particular night. Cross, inside the box at the left post, put a shot on Poston from point-blank range that Poston handled, but the rebound went completely across the goal from where Cross tracked it down and fired it into the back of the net from the right post.
   "On my first goal he came out pretty far, and I thought he would do that again," said Cross. "(The second one) just crossed over to the other side, the rebound, and I got a good shot off. We knew we had to play with a lot of intensity tonight, and especially in the second half."