BECKLEY — The George Washington boys soccer team believes that the first 10 minutes of a match can settle the entire contest, that a quick strike can put an opponent on its heels and lead to a big win.
On Saturday at the Cline Sports Complex, GW needed just a shade over two minutes.
The first of Zak Abdul-Jalil’s two goals came at the 2:01 mark of the match and the Patriots used an athletic defense to capture their third Class AAA state championship in the last four seasons, winning 2-0 over Mountain State Athletic Conference mate Cabell Midland.
The feeling after the match was hard to describe for the players, but a joy to experience.
“There’s no greater feeling than this,” senior E.J. Davis said. “To be the first team to go back-to-back, that’s going to be in the books for a while.”
“It’s crazy,” Abdul-Jalil added. “Three out of four? I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say.”
It was a Davis-to-Abdul-Jalil connection that led to that first goal. Davis saw the ball bouncing on the pitch and saw Abdul-Jalil with an opening between Midland’s center back and left back. He fed it to Abdul-Jalil, who buried it in the bottom left corner of the net.
“I knew he was faster than any defender they had,” Davis said. “I just put it in front of him a little bit and he did the rest.”
Abdul-Jalil said the goal wouldn’t have been possible without the feed from Davis.
“E.J. just played me a beautiful pass,” Abdul-Jalil said. “All I had to do was just run after it and get in the box.”
Despite allowing a quick goal, the Knights (14-5-2) weren’t stunned. They’re used to close games with the Patriots. GW swept the two games they played in the regular season, but both were one-goal margins.
And it wouldn’t have been the first time the Knights had to grind out a game in Beckley. Midland went scoreless with University through two overtimes Friday in the state semifinals before winning on penalty kicks.
“We’ve been behind before,” CMHS coach Brian McNeel said. “And we’ve always found a way to come back. Unfortunately, we were a step behind today, but in the end we still worked together.”
GW (23-2) got a huge boost from its defense. Anytime the Knights found even the slightest opening and a chance to score, a Patriot defender was sprinting in to disrupt the opportunity.
For a good chunk of the match, Abdul-Jalil was one of those defenders. GW coach Erik Engle played the reigning Kanawha Valley Player of the Year up front when necessary and in the back when necessary, and Abdul-Jalil flourished Saturday in both roles.
“It’s something we’ve never had,” Engle said. “We’ve never had a Triple-A player of the year as a defender as a junior that we then decided, let’s see what he looks like up front. The energy of our team changes.”
For both the Knights and the Patriots, it was a memorable Saturday. Cabell Midland had never played for a boys state soccer championship before this weekend. Despite the loss, McNeel was extremely proud to see his group tread new ground.
“I’ve always seen this team to have the potential to come this far,” McNeel said. “And it’s this group of players that has been able to lead us this year. I’m extremely proud for what they did for Cabell Midland.”
This Patriots team also entered uncharted waters for the program with its consecutive state titles. The players entered this postseason determined to earn that honor. Now that it’s theirs, it’s one they will cherish for a long time.
“We’re gonna remember this when we’re older,” Davis said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”