ASHEVILLE — Both Watauga’s and Asheville’s boys’ soccer teams brought their defenses to their third-round state 3-A playoff game at Asheville High Nov. 8.
Neither team got many chances to score goals. Just one team took advantage of a scoring opportunity when Asheville broke through for a goal with 11:02 in the first half. It was enough to give the Cougars a 1-0 victory over visiting Watauga, which saw its 13-match winning streak come to an end.
Watauga, seeded fifth in the bracket, finishes the 2018 season with a 21-6 record. The Pioneers won a share of the Northwestern Conference championship with a 12-2 league mark, and then won a playoff over co-champ Hickory to determine playoff seeding.
Watauga coach Josh Honeycutt was naturally disappointed in the loss, but liked a lot of what he saw over the season. The Pioneers won their first Mellow Mushroom Classic tournament and grabbed a league title after climbing out of third place.
“It was a good way to finish the year,” Honeycutt said of the Pioneers’ win streak. “I told the guys breaking it down that I don’t think anybody in the state expected us to be here. We definitely turned a few heads and made people recognize that Watauga soccer is here, we’re back and we have a tradition of excellence that we’ve had in the past and we plan on staying here.”
Asheville (23-1-1) won the Western Mountain 3-A Conference with a 15-1 record. The Cougars are the No. 4 seed in the western bracket.
Asheville got all the scoring it needed in the first half when Asheville worked the ball through the Watauga defense and got the ball to Will Feehan. He got the ball to Justin Fleer, who scored the only goal of the game.
It was Fleer’s 21st goal of the season.
“We had just one moment of mental lapse where we lost track of the ball and lost track of a couple of runners,” Honeycutt said. “We didn’t hold them up like we did the rest of the game. They’re skilled enough that if you lose your focus for just one second, they can tear up the field and run right through with some give-and-goes and the next thing they are in goal.”
Watauga’s biggest obstacle offensively was Asheville’s height. The Cougars disrupted Watauga’s strategy of kicking the ball deep into the Cougars’ side of the field by heading the ball the other direction.
There were instances when the teams would combine to head the ball three or four times in a row before it finally hit the turf.
“They were very good in the air,” Honeycutt said. “A lot of the attack we had trying to go over their defense with our speed wasn’t able to make it through because when the ball was in the air they would get up and win the ball. When we were able to beat them they would track back really well and never really had a free and open look.”
Watauga was able to produce some corner kicks, especially in the second half, but Asheville was able to clear the ball away from its goal. Honeycutt felt that if the Pioneers could score a goal, others would follow.
“I knew if we could find that first one, the other ones would come,” Honeycutt said. “That’s the way it’s been all season. As soon as we get one in the net, we find the momentum and we keep going.”
Asheville coach Mike Flowe felt that the Cougars defense has been solid for most of the season. Asheville has racked up 15 shutouts this season and has not allowed a goal in three playoff games.
“That’s kind of an under-rated part of our team,” Flowe said. “They stood tall tonight because Watauga was excellent, like we knew they would be.”