George Washington knows how to rise to the occasion.
After opening the year with wins over Morgantown and Parkersburg, the Patriots passed their biggest test of the season Tuesday, taking down Hurricane 3-2 in a battle between two of the premier prep boys soccer teams in the state at the Fields at Trace Fork in South Charleston.
George Washington remains unbeaten at 8-0, while the Redskins (7-1-1) suffer their first loss.
“[Hurricane] is a really good team,” said GW coach Erik Engle. “We play a lot of really good teams. We tend to play our best matches when we’re playing against good teams. You saw one tonight. This was a great match against a quality team. This won’t be the last time we see them.”
The much-anticipated matchup lived up to its billing in the first half.
Hurricane gained momentum early, using a few booming goal kicks from keeper Nick Eskins to quickly flip the field on GW. The Redskins used Eskins on a few free kicks well past midfield, and the tactic paid off in the 12th minute.
Eskins booted a free kick from near midfield that was batted away GW keeper Kevin Tiffey. But Hurricane’s Drake Lester fielded the rebound and promptly lofted a shot over the Patriot defense and into the back of the net to stake the Redskins to a 1-0 lead.
“Nick is the best player in the state,” said Hurricane coach Cody Freas. “I know there are a lot of good players, but I’ve had the opportunity to watch Nick play and train for four years. He’s a special kid and we make sure we utilize every ounce of his talent. And that’s the reason we use him the way we do — come up, taking free kicks. He’s just a special kid, special talent.”
Hurricane wouldn’t hold the lead for long, though.
GW used a successful passing game to penetrate the Redskins defense, and after a couple missed opportunities, junior Max Tretheway finally broke through just six minutes later, firing in a shot from the left side that beat Eskins on the right post and knotted the score at 1.
The Patriots dominated the ball from there, which led to Robbie Nunley’s unassisted goal from the top of the box with 11 minutes left in the half to help GW carry a 2-1 lead into the break.
“They’ve had a situation where they’ve been down earlier in the season and had to fight to come back and get their win, so it wasn’t the first time,” said Engle. “They knew what they needed to do, they knew they needed to keep playing hard, they needed to keep playing the way they typically play — possession soccer, look for the next open man, and they continued to do it, and that’s the way they came back.”
Both teams made adjustments at halftime, with the Patriots shadowing Eskins to limit his goal kicks, and Hurricane stepping up its defensive efforts.
Neither team was able to generate much offense until just five minutes remaining, when the Redskins were whistled for a foul in the box, setting up a penalty kick opportunity for Tretheway.
Tretheway snuck a shot past Eskins for what proved to be the game-winner.
“Max always gives everything he has,” said Engle. “His sister plays for the girls team and when they play they just go at it as hard as they can and they will until you bring them off the field.”
Hurricane wouldn’t go away quietly, using a hawking defense and some aggressive runs into GW territory to force the Patriots into an own-goal with 3:21 remaining and trim the deficit to 3-2, but would get no closer.
“GW is a really technical and tactical soccer team,” said Freas. “They know how to play the game the right way. They were cutting us up off the dribble and we weren’t defending the dribble very well. Honestly, they were eating us alive. When we defended the dribble better, things changed for us.”
The Patriots, recently ranked No. 16 in the country in USA Today’s Top 25 poll, showed why they are worthy of that ranking, cutting up a stout Redskins defense for most of the game.
“We wanted to make sure we found the open areas of the field,” said Engle. “They were giving us space and we wanted to get the ball into those open areas, make sure that we’re not trying to do it off the dribble – we want to find combinations, we want our players to work together all the time. That’s our goal, that’s our focus.”
Hurricane is using the loss as a teaching moment and already has eyes on its next matchup with the Patriots.
“I felt like we came to play, especially in the second half,” said Freas. “GW is a quality opponent, but I think we were the aggressor for a lot of the second half and the opportunities we were earning late in the game were a result of that.
“First setback of the season — it doesn’t feel well, and we’re not into moral victories, but we know if we take care of business in conference we’ll have opportunities to play these guys again and that’s where our mindset is already at.”