MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The Louisburg College (N.C.) men’s soccer team’s 21-game winning streak hung in the balance Friday night at the Smith River Sports Complex in Martinsville, Va.
Sophomore Benjamin Foulds scored the game-winning goal in the fifth minute of overtime, giving the Hurricanes – the No. 1 seed – a 2-1 win over Pima Community College in the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I men’s soccer championships. Foulds lofted an angled shot to the far post over Pima keeper Taylor Anderson, sending Louisburg to the championship match Saturday afternoon.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve had playing football (soccer) for sure,” Foulds said. “You can’t put it into words. Doing it all again (Saturday) will make it all worth it.”
The sophomore midfielder capitalized on a piece of good fortune as a deflected clear attempt by the Pima defense fell right to his feet at the top of the 18. He then lofted a perfect shot to the right corner over the outstretched reach of Anderson.
“We are proud of that (winning 22 straight games) and have worked very hard to do that,” Louisburg head coach Martin Dell said. “We’ve worked hard individually and as a group to be disciplined, keep our shape and personally I think there are a lot of good characters on this team that refuse to lose.”
Moments before the winning goal, Pima’s Alejandro Gonzalez nearly had the winner on a header from the left edge of the six-yard box, missing wide to the far post by three feet. The sophomore midfielder equalized the match in the 81st minute for the Aztecs after falling behind in the 67th minute.
“That one is going to haunt me a little bit when I go to bed,” Gonzalez said of the missed opportunity. “I know at the end of the day I could’ve been a little smarter with the ball.”
Gonzalez and fellow sophomore Jason Romero created a series of chances against the Louisburg defense throughout the regulation 90 minutes and beyond. Their connection inside the left portion of the penalty box brought the match back to level terms, as Romero worked around his defender along the end line left of the goal. He slid a well-paced ball back toward the penalty marker which Gonzalez placed inside the left post on the one touch.
Gonzalez said the pair had teamed up on several chances similar to that one during the season.
“We try not to hang our heads that much and know we are a scoring team that can get the result,” Gonzalez said. “We had to keep pushing as a team and that’s how the goal came.”
Louisburg’s leading scorer Max Blackmore scored his 34th goal of the season at the midway point of the second half. He said the goal gave his team confidence to push forward despite needing to find a winner in the extra session.
“You can’t let that sort of momentum get you down, because we knew we could score and had the chances during the game,” Blackmore said. “So we knew if we got another one we would put it away and get the win.”
Blackmore’s tally in the 67th minute came off an Aztec giveaway at midfield. Alex Kao delivered a through ball up the right channel with the perfect pace for Blackmore, who split Pima’s flat-back defense. The striker then made a few touches into the penalty box and opened the scoring with a shot to the far corner.
Looking to keep the lead and play with numbers behind the ball, Louisburg was unable to hold its 1-0 lead 14 minutes after opening the scoring. Dell said Pima did a good job of maintaining its pressure and organized attack. Then in the overtime, it simply became a mental game.
“I think at that time it gets a little stretched and physically the players get tired,” Dell said. “Space starts to open up and at that stage it could go either way.”
Louisburg (23-1) enters Saturday’s national championship match on a 22-game winning streak, having not lost since August. Pima finished its season at 21-4-2.