Moving the ball upfield

Watauga’s James Privette advances the ball up the field against St. Stephens.

BOONE — The Watauga boys’ soccer team took big step toward winning the Northwestern Conference championship Oct. 21 with a 6-0 win over visiting St. Stephens at Jack Groce Stadium.

Watauga (13-5-1, 9-1 NWC), whose victory over St. Stephens avenged the Pioneers’ lone conference loss, is a win over McDowell (0-16, 0-10) away from clinching a tie in the loss column with South Caldwell (10-5, 7-2) for the NWC championship. Watauga beat South Caldwell both times this season, giving the Pioneers any tie-breaking advantage.

Watauga, which beat McDowell 9-0 on Sept. 30, has won seven straight games. The Pioneers have outscored those opponents 31-3. Watauga has also outscored its last three opponents 11-0.

Watauga coach Josh Honeycutt felt that if the Pioneers played their game of possessing the ball and keep St. Stephens occupied with chasing the ball when Watauga had it, Watauga’s conditioning would pay off.

“In the first 15 or 20 minutes, I knew that they were going to come out hard,” Honeycutt said of St. Stephens. “They were very intense and high-paced. I welcome that because of our fitness. If they want to come out and chase us around, over time we’ll wear somebody out.”

Watauga took a 2-0 lead against St. Stephens (7-7-2, 5-4) when Owen Combs scored the Pioneers’ first goal on a direct kick. His shot slipped through the St. Stephens’ goalkeeper’s hands and crept inside of the Indians’ goal.

The Pioneers got their second goal when the St. Stephens keeper blocked a Watauga shot, but Ayden Franklin got the rebound and put it in the goal. Watauga scored again with 30 minutes left in the second half on a Ruben Nelson penalty kick.

Honeycutt felt that Nelson’s goal gave Watauga a key momentum lift.

“Once we scored the third goal, I think we deflated them,” Honeycutt said. “I don’t want to say they stopped playing because they didn’t stop playing, but they played with a little less intensity. It took the air out of them and we were able to continue playing and keep finding the back of the net.”

Combs picked up his second goal with 24:41 left in the game on an assist from David Sprague. A Nelson corner kick assisted a header goal by Hatch Sevensky, who scored again with 6:33 in a scramble following a corner kick close to the Indians’ goal to give the Pioneers a 6-0 lead.

“Obviously, we’ve figured a few things out,” Honeycutt said. “We’ve figured out defensively to be more organized and communicate and shift together, which has given up some solidity in the back. We’re also finding ways to score.”

After playing at McDowell, Watauga ends its regular season at home against Freedom on Oct. 28.

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