The stage was set for a memorable evening for the Camp Verde High School boy’s soccer team on Thursday, Oct 19.
It was the opportunity to beat rival and No. 1 Chino Valley High School at home, on senior night, with the Central Region title on the line, the first time that the senior sextuplet would have defeated the Cougars.
But a seven-goal second half by the reigning Conference 2A champions spoiled the occasion, defeating the No. 3 Cowboys [11-2, 6-1] 7-1.
“I thought we had them dialed in the first half, we were controlling the pace of the game, we had our opportunities to score and everything,” Cowboys head coach David Miller said.
The game’s pivotal moment came with just over two minutes left in the first half. Camp Verde senior goalkeeper Preston Maynard was shown a red card after fouling Cougar freshman midfielder Angel Sanchez while contesting a 50-50 ball in midair outside of the penalty box.
“You can’t take the best goalie in the state off the field and put you down a man and not have it change the complexion of the game,” Miller said. “It was just one of those unfortunate things, it’s what happens, it’s high school sports.”
Miller vehemently contested the call; there were only two referees on the game, too. Maynard said he came out so far because he knew that Sanchez was faster than his last defender.
Nonetheless the Cowboys were down to 10 men, and sophomore Kelton O’Grady took over in goal, blocking the ensuing free kick from 25 yards out.
There was a moment of euphoria for the hosts as they scored just before halftime, against the run of play.
Senior midfielder Wesley Loveall received the ball from fellow 12th-grader Joseph Jones on the left edge of the 18-yard box. Loveall controlled, turned and lofted a shot high over Chino Valley junior goalkeeper Abraham Gamez and into the far corner.
“I turned and I saw a little bit of space and I just went for it, because I knew the goalie was short,” Loveall said.
However the elation was short-lived; the undefeated Cougars scored three times in a four-minute span to open the second frame.
Just under three minutes in, Cougars senior forward Elijah Desmond opened his scoring account when he tucked a low cross into the far corner, the ball sent in by freshman midfielder Quade Kellerman.
Two minutes later it was senior midfielder Matthew Rios-Jakeway. He fired into a wide-open net after O’Grady left his line to collect another low cross, that time coming in from the other side.
Two minutes after that Desmond appeared again with another close-range finish. He ended up with a hat trick— all three on one-touch finishes from inside the box. It was a fast and furious first 10 minutes that put the Cowboys on their heels.
Rios-Jakeway tucked in a rebound at the far post off of a good O’Grady save, and finished off his hat trick taking advantage of a broken play to make it 6-1 with 13:36 left.
Despite the lopsided scoreline, Miller felt like the Cougars had not changed or done anything otherwise to swing the tide of the game.
“We’re just running short and we have a substitute goalie in, that’s all it was,” Miller said. “We haven’t been pushed around like that all season like that by anybody, but we’ll retool and get everything back.”
Meanwhile the 10-man Camp Verde team was resigned to sending long balls up field to create offense. Chino Valley was calm carrying the ball and using possession throughout the half, conceding only a handful of scattered opportunities to the Cowboys.
In both halves the speedy Jones and slight-footed senior Nate Schultz alternated between playing sweeper and striker, but as a collective the Cowboys struggled to generate clear-cut chances.
Chino Valley sophomore midfielder Irving Vedolla rounded out the scoring with just over a minute left.
“A little frustrated at the outcome of the game, but overall proud of the heart we showed and the fire we played with despite the bad circumstances,” Loveall said.
The six seniors honored at halftime were: Maynard, Jones, Loveall, Nate Schultz, Alex Ortiz, Chase Decker and Nick Daniels.
“They’re a great class. Leaders on and off the field. It’ll be tough to replace but we’ve got a lot of young players coming up,” Miller said.
Up next the Cowboys will host Show Low High School at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 in the first round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Conference 2A tournament.
If they win, they will play at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 27, at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.