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CLAYTON — The Clayton defense could do little but turn toward the goal in disbelief.
In the waning minutes of a second 10-minute overtime, after a second half when neither team could find a way to score, Corinth Holders senior midfielder David Edge gathered himself in the box, turned toward the bouncing ball and fired with a powerful right foot.
Unlike many of the shots taken by both teams earlier in the game, the ball was not disturbed on its flight toward the goal. The ball whizzed past a gaggle of Comets and Pirates and landed in the dead center back of the net for what would become the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory.
After a back-and-forth affair, Corinth Holders won its first Neuse River Futbol Alliance Cup since 2016 and avenged a loss to Clayton in the Johston County title game last season.
“I just felt it and the instincts kicked in,” explained Edge, whose goal gave the Pirates its first NRFA Cup victory since 2016, back when it was the JUSA Cup. “I’ve practiced for 17 years and just came through.”
After losing to Clayton in last year’s final, Corinth Holders found a way to exact revenge. It didn’t execute a flawless game plan, nor did it play like the clear favorite to win it.
It just found a way to score at the end, which was the only quality the team needed.
“It was a big relief,” first year head coach Brad Betterton said of that final goal. “It just shows that this team, the resiliency they have, the senior leadership. They came together as a team, put the ball in the back of the net and won this game.”
In a hard-fought game when both team created plenty of chances to score, the Pirates created far fewer of them than Clayton.
Clayton boasted a more aggressive offense and controlled the possession for much of the game. It took a higher volume of good shots on goal and worked the ball downfield with efficiency. That just didn’t translate to results, as the Pirates found a way to remain one step ahead, starting with an early goal.
Corinth Holders scored first in the 21st minute. After being fouled in the box, senior forward Carlos Zavaleta connected on his penalty kick, sending the ball into the back left corner to put his team ahead early.
But only a few minutes later, Clayton’s Ryan Doyle received a crossing corner kick from Jonathon Gustavo-Escobar and redirected it right at Pirate goalie Jimmy Phillips. Though Phillips got his gloves on the ball, the momentum of the ball continued to carry it into the upper right corner to tie the game at 1.
With back-to-back scores pretty close together, the game started to shape up with potential to be a back-and-forth, high-scoring affair. As the pressure began to build in anticipation of the next goal, both teams traded runs down into opposing territory, with misses that caused spectators to arch their back, look up to the sky and groan.
As the game wore on, the third goal just didn’t come — as both teams entered halftime looking to break through.
With a tall task in slowing down the Clayton offense, Corinth Holders made an adjustment at halftime to try to contain the pressing Comets. Instead of its typical 4-3-3 that put three forwards up top, the Pirates moved to a more conservative 4-4-2 that aimed to bolster the back half of the field by dropping a striker and adding another midfielder.
“We knew they were going to be a strong team and we had to change the way we were playing to adapt to them,” Betterton said. “We did a very good job to adapt the way we played.”
That change made some difference, as runs downfield were more hard-pressed. However, it also made scoring opportunities much tougher to find for the Pirates, forcing the team to move much further down the field before the Clayton goalie became wide-eyed.
As the game wore on, the two teams became more physical, as the fight for position down the field marked a desperation for both to score. Yet no goals continued to come of it.
“That’s just the rivalry between Corinth and Clayton,” Betterton explained of the physicality of the second half.
When regulation ended, the scoreless streak still survived into overtime. Clayton continued to dominate possession for the most part, until Corinth Holders stole the ball and made a final push down field.
That run was stifled by the Clayton defense, but only for a moment. After the ball was kicked out of the back of the field, Michael Edge took his spot to take the corner.
The ball soared into the box, meeting the head of one Corinth Holders player, then another before falling at the feet of David Edge.
After the goal, the fight for an equalizer continued for Clayton, but the team was unable to get close to forcing penalty kicks.
“It makes up for losing in the finals last year, to come back and make a run this year,” David Edge said. “(To) show what we’re made of.”