BECKLEY — As hard as it is to imagine for a program with its tradition and its four Class AAA state titles, George Washington’s boys soccer team rolled into the state tournament this year a little under the radar.
With an undefeated University team and defending-champion Hurricane in the field, the Patriots weren’t necessarily the headline stealer.
But on Friday night, GW left no doubt about its continued place among the state’s elite.
George Washington avenged its regular-season loss to University, defeating the Hawks 2-1 to advance to the Class AAA state championship game on Friday at Paul Cline Memorial Sports Complex.
GW will play the Hedgesville 45 minutes after the conclusion of the girls Class AAA championship game, which is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Hedgesville blanked Hurricane 1-0 in the second semifinal.
After a scoreless tie at the intermission, the Patriots moved the ball down the field effectively and capitalized when Noah Carney headed a pass to himself down the field, giving George Washington a 1-0 lead on a breakaway goal.
Carney spoke about seizing the role of underdog.
“We kind of took it and embraced it because it’s not something we get very often,” Carney said. “I think it took a lot of pressure off of our guys. It gave us a sense of ease coming into it, because we don’t have anything to lose.”
15 minutes, later Chance Anderson added an insurance goal in the 73rd minute, putting the Patriots on top 2-0. The insurance goal made the difference as Brock Pickett put the Hawks on the board with 58 seconds left, but that was all University would muster.
The loss, University’s first of the season, ends the Hawks’ championship bid at 21-1-1.
It took a furious regional rally to even get GW (18-3-2) into the state tournament field as it trailed Princeton 2-0 at halftime in a Region 3 final.
But it may have been a blessing in disguise as coach Eric Engle said he feels like he’s coaching a different team now.
“That team that finished that game was different than the team that started that game,” Engle said. “You could see the difference in the way they played.”
Hedgesville 1, Hurricane 0
Despite a 9-1 advantage in shots and several pinball scenarios inside the Hedgesville box in the final moments, the Eagles used an Anthony Lang goal early in the second half and a stellar performance from keeper Sean Monroe to pull out the win, ousting the defending champions.
“Hedgesville is always well coached, they play hard, they don’t beat themselves and you have to beat them,” Hurricane coach Jim Dagostine said. “Tonight their guys did enough to make it happen. For us, there’s an old saying in soccer that says, ‘You’ve got to be lucky and good,’ and the latter part of that we just didn’t have. We had every opportunity. Give their guys credit, they battled and their keeper battled and we put all the pressure on them that you can put on them.”
Hurricane finishes its season at 19-3, falling two wins short of back-to-back titles despite losing six starters and its entire defense from a year ago. Dagostine admitted it was an emotional scene in the locker room as the Redskins said goodbye to five senior starters. Still, he added he and his squad are proud of what was accomplished this year.
“Carrying the mantle of defending state champions, not every team can do it,” Dagostine said. “And these kids from the very beginning embraced it and used it as motivation. We started out 0-1, lost our opener in the last 20 seconds, but this team has pulled it together and we won a conference championship in the toughest conference in the state, we won a sectional title, regional title and made it back to this final four which is terribly difficult to do.”
Hedgesville takes a 9-5-4 record to the title game.