By RYAN HERMAN
State-ranked Lincolnton and perennial boys soccer power Newton-Conover entered Wednesday’s conference match tied in the standings.
They finished the same way.
The third-ranked Wolves owned the first half while the Red Devils owned the second, then the two powers played to a stalemate in overtime to finish with a 1-1 tie in the heavyweight bout in town.
Coupled with West Caldwell’s 5-0 win over East Lincoln, the Wolves (7-1-1, 3-0-1 Southern District 7 Athletic 2A) and Newton-Conover (5-3-2, 3-0-1) are now tied for second behind the Warriors (4-0 SD-7).
After holding a 5-3 edge in the shots battle in the first half –– and a 1-0 lead –– Lincolnton was outshot 7-2 in the second, and went nearly 45 minutes in between shots from its final attempt in the second half until its first and only attempt in the overtime session.
The Wolves, known for their relentless offensive attack, were limited to just two shots on goal in the second half of regulation.
“The overtime was what I thought this whole game was going to be,” Lincolnton coach Ian Leith said. “It got intense. I just didn’t think we played well. I thought they outhustled us, especially in the second half.”
Lincolnton struck first when Graham Willis headed in Alejandro Cerdas’s free kick after a 30-yard flight inside of a minute to play in the first half.
The shot was its final attempt of the half, and it didn’t get its first shot off –– on a free kick –– until nearly 11 minutes had gone by in the match.
In between the Wolves were the more aggressive team. But in the second half that designation belonged to Newton-Conover.
The Red Devils, who knocked Lincolnton out of the state playoffs in 2012, controlled possession and tempo in the second half. In addition to its seven shots, Newton-Conover had six corner kicks in the final 40 minutes of regulation.
In all, the Red Devils led in corners 10-1.
They tied it up with 21:23 to play when Alan Espirilla put one in after Wolves keeper Daniel McBride, who had six saves, deflected a shot back into the field of play.
From then on it was a match of missed and deflected shots for the Red Devils and a lack of offense –– but solid defense –– for Lincolnton.
“It easily could have been 2-to-1 us, 2-to-1 them, whatever,” Leith said.
“A tie is probably fair. … Our defense did well.”
Newton-Conover got off the first shot in the first 10-minute overtime period, then the Wolves got theirs off in the second OT period, ending a drought of roughly 45 minutes without a shot.
Lincolnton was outshot 11-8, yet it had its chances for shots but they weren’t taken.
In a match as high-caliber as Wednesday’s, Leith knows that has to change.
“I think that we had enough possessions in the box –– we pass the ball around, we pass the ball around in front of the goal the whole time –– we just didn’t shoot. Too many people wanted a perfect shot instead of just trying to take a shot,” Leith said. “Hopefully we’ll have better luck next time.
“We need to play a full game (with) high intensity. We’ve got the players to do it. And we need to shoot more. We have good shooters. We need to shoot more.”