Franklin works the field

Watauga’s Ayden Franklin, right, works the ball up the right side of the field against Monroe’s Alexander Hernandez.

BOONE — The Watauga boys’ soccer team cruised to a 5-0 victory over visiting Monroe in the first round of the state 3-A playoffs at chilly Jack Groce Stadium.

Watauga (16-5-1) won its 11th straight game, this time beating a Monroe (12-11) team that lost its third straight. Watauga advances to the second round at 6 p.m. Saturday at home against the winner of Marvin Ridge and Concord Robinson.

Watauga was able to possess the ball, mostly in the Monroe side of the field, for most of the match. David Sprague gave the Pioneers a 1-0 lead with a goal and Alex Webb beat the Monroe keeper to the ball midway in the 18-yard box. Webb found the back of the Redhawks’ goal with 21:31 left in the first half, which gave the Pioneers a 2-0 lead they took into halftime.

Watauga keeper Reilly Riddle made a spectacular diving save on a shot taken seconds before the first half ended.

“It helped us that the way they ran their defense was a really high line trying to catch an offside trap,” Watauga coach Josh Honeycutt said. “With the soccer smarts that my guys have and their speed, that’s just not a really good defense to run against us. It gives us lots of opportunities, which obviously we had plenty of opportunities that we used.”

Watauga kept the pressure on the Redhawks in the second half. Owen Combs gave Watauga a 3-0 lead with a goal off an assist from Ayden Franklin. Walker Franklin gave the Pioneers a 4-0 lead on a penalty kick with 24:14 left in the game.

Combs made it 5-0 with 15:50 left in the game on a direct kick. Watauga’s offense did the rest by playing keep-away with the Monroe defense for most of the rest of the half.

“We did what we do well, which is possess the ball and dominate control of the game,” Honeycutt said. “To play quick one-twos, look to switch the field, get the defense to move around and chase us around and get tired, and it worked again.”

Honeycutt was happy with the job that the Watauga defense did on Monroe’s leading scorer Za’Quavion Wall, who did not get many chances at the Pioneers’ goal.

“We looked really good defensively,” Honeycutt said. “Right now we’ve got the guys playing to the best of their ability. They’re communicating. They’re shifting. They’re covering for one another and they’re very solid in the back. Even if you have one super-stud it’s going to take more than one guy to crack through that line.”

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