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When in doubt, put the ball on frame and test the mettle of the opposing goalkeeper.
The Fike High varsity boys soccer team did just that Wednesday night in peeling back the layers of the defensive alignment put forth by visiting Franklinton, using goals in each half by sophomore Mason Lee and junior Myles Cyrus to eke out a 2-0 decision that registered as the Golden Demons’ first 3-A Big East Conference victory of 2017.
Fike, which recorded a winning outcome for the first time in four matches, improved to 5-3-2 overall and 1-1 within the Big East. Franklinton, a first-year conference member and also new to the 3-A level, was left 8-3 and 0-2 within the league.
The Demons were coming off a 3-2 loss in their conference opener at Southern Nash on Monday afternoon.
“We’ve got two what I think are pretty winnable matches next week against Rocky Mount and Northern Nash,” Fike head coach Chris Mizelle said. “Hopefully this is the start of a good little stretch for us.”
Fike’s defense, led by vocal senior Nolan Wiggs in goal and including Lee, senior Matt Cotton, junior Clayton Snyder, senior Ian Vergin and freshman John T. Conoley, was up to the 80-minute task throughout on defense. The Demons recorded their first shutout of a 3-A opponent this season and overcame the loss of Lee to a right ankle injury in the 53rd minute. Lee initially went down in a heap of pain and didn’t return, but Mizelle said after the match that he should be available to return Friday at Swansboro. Conoley assumed Lee’s position for the first time in his career and contributed to keeping the shutout intact.
Navid Qazizada knocked in a cross for the Red Rams in the 79th minute, but the linesman had his flag up for a clear offsides call and disallowed the goal.
Offensively, Fike had to solve the puzzle that Franklinton presented with five defenders behind the ball. That took away a good number of through balls for the Demons to run onto, instead forcing them to connect passes directly to the feet of teammates.
In amassing its record, Franklinton had a seven-match winning streak where it outscored overmatched opposition 42-0.
But the Demons, who outshot the Red Rams 22-12, put 10 of their efforts on frame.
Lee put Fike up at halftime before his departure, firing a shot from the right side outside the box that sophomore Red Rams keeper Gaelin Day couldn’t handle. The ball bounded off his hands and past the line, allowing the Demons a 1-0 cushion after 40 minutes.
“Anytime you come into a game where you’ve got five guys playing in the back, which is what they had going, you’ve got to take your chances when they’re available,” Mizelle said. “And make sure you can get something out of it, whether it’s a goal or a rebound. As long as you can find the frame, something positive is going to come. I expected (Franklinton) to play pretty conservative and load up the back line a little bit. They did that for the most part. I just think we’ve got to be a little bit better finding the creases, and checking into the pockets we can find and combining out of them.”
Cyrus gave the Demons an insurance marker in similar fashion in the 53rd, sliding a low shot off the ground from the edge of the box. Day, who had eight saves, was in position again for Franklinton. Yet he couldn’t make the save, and Fike owned the final margin.
“We have a young keeper,” Red Rams head coach Bert Woodburn said. “This is his first season as the varsity goalkeeper, and he’s learning. Very simple mistakes. He made some great saves today, but the goals that went in were simple mistakes that could have been stopped.”
That wasn’t lost on the Demons, who acknowledged they aren’t at an advantage running balls down behind the defense.
“That’s a big point that we need to work on,” Wiggs said. “Those through balls aren’t going to work, as you can see. They didn’t really work tonight. What worked was when we passed the ball around, one-touch passes and we just slot people through. We don’t have the clientele for long through balls. Myles is fast, but he’s not Usain Bolt!”
“We’re not the fastest team in the world,” he said. “So we can kind of hide our speed, or our lack thereof, if we can move the ball at pace and let the ball do most of the work for us.”
Wiggs tallied six saves in preserving the clean sheet.
After the trip to Swansboro, Fike is back in Big East play Monday at Rocky Mount.