Navarre High School’s boys’ soccer team followed an outstanding 2-1 upset win Jan. 30 at Tallahassee Chiles with an even better effort Feb. 2 against Niceville. but lost 1-0. (PHOTO: The Niceville goalkeeper secures the ball in a crowd of Raiders.)
Ironically, the Raiders lost in almost the exact circumstances in which they won against Chiles. In both games, there was slightly less than four minutes remaining. The ball was knocked down inside the box and bounced around before a player knocked home the winning goal from close range.
“I am very proud of the boys,” Navarre coach Rob Simon said. “They finished the season playing their best soccer of the season. They have absolutely no reason to hang their heads after the loss to Niceville. It was a phenomenal game to be a part of as a coach. Both teams played at a very high level, creating multiple opportunities to score. Both defenses and goal keepers played extremely well. I thought that we were the better team over the course of the match, but unfortunately they were able to convert on a corner kick. We had a couple of goals called back due to offside (calls). We hit the post once and they had a fantastic game-saving play by a defender sliding in on a shot in the second half that was on its way into the back of the net.
Simon said the team’s success came despite a degree of uncertainty.
“The boys have overcome so much this year,” he said. “They started the year with me as the head coach and being told that we would find them a new coach. One was hired at the end of the summer, and then he quit soon after the school year started. Ken McDonald was hired a week before the season started. Ken and the boys worked so hard this year and improved every day.”
Health problems forced McDonald to leave the team after the district tournament. Simon and assistant coach Jeff Knapp coached the Raiders in two regional games.
“The boys didn't flinch,” Simon continues. “They executed our game plan for a good win against Chiles in very poor conditions against a difficult team. They continued that by playing a part of – in my estimation – probably the best high school soccer game of the season in our area. Both teams fought their guts out ‘til the very end. I do know that from top to bottom this is the most talented team in Navarre high school boys’ soccer history and they have a bright future. I hope they continue to work hard in the off season.
“Next year they should be the favorites to be the best team in the area.”
Navarre 2, Chiles 1
The start of the game was delayed for 30 minutes because of high winds and a heavy rainstorm.
“We thought the wind was going to be worse than it was,” Chandler Moorer said. “It did affect our long passes in the second half with the wind at our back. The wet field often slowed down the ball and made it slick.”
Both teams played evenly for the first half. The Timberwolves had the closest scoring opportunity when a wet ball bounced off Raider keeper Amuia Alford. A Timberwolf player kicked the rebound towards the goal. The ball bounced off the right post and rolled in front of the goal. It then bounced off the left post and back out to the field where Moorer cleared it. The game remained scoreless at halftime.
Brendan White scored the game’s first goal in the 57th minute.
“Eddy (Layne) moved the ball down the left side of the field,” White said. “He saw me making my run and crossed the ball to me about 12 yards out in front of the goal. It was a perfect pass. I beat one defender and shot from eight yards out and put the ball past their keeper.”
The Timberwolves came back with a goal by David Hester at the 65th minute to tie the game.
“We knew they were tough on balls in the air and we misjudged one,” Moorer said. “He got behind us and tied the game.”
The teams battled back and forth until Jordan Supra knocked in the winning goal with less than four minutes left to play.
“Ricardo (Hidalgo) took a direct kick from 30 yards out,” Supra said. “The ball was knocked down by (Ryan) Olson inside the box. Two defenders tried to get to the ball, but missed. I picked up the loose ball, beat a defender and shot the ball past the keeper. It was almost easy. It felt just like we do in practice.”
The defense of Moorer, Logan Townsend, Corey White and Hidalgo held off the Timberwolves for the rest of the game.
Niceville 1, Navarre 0
It was one of those games destined to be decided by a mistake.
In the first half, the teams played evenly. Navarre had two scoring chances, but the Niceville keeper made diving saves. Navarre keeper Alford came up big with two saves of his own.
Whatever Simon said to the Raiders at halftime, it registered. The Raiders came up big in the second half. They controlled the ball most of the game. Kameron Bethell, the quarterback on the field, was everywhere. He started most of the attacks on the Eagle goal. A Navarre score by Ryan Olson was waived off on an offside call. This was one of several offside calls that did not go the Raiders’ way.
With six minutes left in the game, an Eagle player got tangled up with Layne and was ejected from the game with a red card. Unfortunately, the Raiders could not take advantage of the one-man advantage. With four minutes remaining, the Eagles brought the ball into the Raider end of the field and were awarded a corner kick. The ball landed at the feet of several players inside the box and bounced around until the Eagle’s Hunter Davis put a solid foot on the ball and scored the game winner.