By RYAN HERMAN
DENVER –– With a pair of goals in the span of 59 seconds, East Lincoln had an upset on its mind.
Newton-Conover had other ideas.
Cesar Lara scored the game-winning goal in the 78th minute and the Red Devils held off a late Mustangs’ rally to win 3-2 on Monday in the Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference boys soccer opener for both teams.
East Lincoln (3-4, 0-1) trailed the 13th-ranked 2A team in the state according to EurosportScoreboard.com 2-0 at the break, and made up both goals in less than a minute with a little over 10 minutes left in the match.
But a late yellow card cost the Mustangs one of their top defenders in junior Michael Hernandez –– his second of the match –– and the Red Devils (3-2-1, 1-0) capitalized when Lara found a hole in the box and scored off a cross from Turner Glynn with 1:35 to play.
“They’re the favorite to win the conference. It was a big tie, to battle back from 2-0, in the match,” Mustangs coach Jason Dragoon said. “We have a good enough team. We just have to somehow find a way to channel our emotion a little bit better. We’ll get there, though.”
East Lincoln finally broke through at the 11:37 mark of the second half when Garrett Reavis converted a penalty kick after being brought down in the box.
Riley Stein tied it with 10:38 left when he put one in the back of the net on a rebound.
For the first 40 minutes the Red Devils dominated. They outshot East Lincoln 7-1 and led 2-0 in corner kicks in the first half due to a breakdown in defense by the Mustangs. But in the second half those numbers changed.
East Lincoln had the first four shots in the final 40 minutes, and on its seventh shot attempt it was just over 10 minutes away from forcing overtime after being two goals in the hole.
“We just weren’t defending very well in the first half. We kind of started doing a better job of defending as a group,” Dragoon said.
“We really did a better job in the second half of giving ourselves opportunities to get back into the game.”
Each team converted a penalty kick in the physical bout. But with the Mustangs losing one of their top defenders late, Lara was able to score his second goal on the night.
He found the net 3 1/2 minutes in to open the scoring. Franklin Wepner converted a PK in the 28th minute for the 2-0 lead.
“Both penalties in the game were legitimate. We had a great second goal to tie it, then a kid speaks to the official. Costly,” Dragoon said. “When you go down a man with a minute, thirty (seconds) to go, that’s tough on the team.”
“To be honest, 2-2, I’m proud of my boys because we kept a very good team (in check),” Dragoon added. “I think that’s a great night for us.”