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Kettle Run stunned by James Monroe, 2-1, in Conference 27 boys soccer final

Friday, May. 29 | By Grant Thomas
Kettle Run's Jed Dalton tries to score with a bicycle kick Thursday during a 2-1 loss to James Monroe in the final of the Conference 27 tournament. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
The Kettle Run boys had heard this type of praise all soccer season, but they didn't care for it Thursday night.

“Good job Kettle Run," James Monroe players yelled at the Cougars’ bench after celebrating a 2-1 upset victory in the final of the Conference 27 tournament.

Top-seeded Kettle Run entered the match unbeaten, but exited with a 14-1-1 record. Kettle Run also lost home field for the 3A region opener, which will be played on Monday at John Champe or William Monroe.

James Monroe (11-6) seems to be kryptonite to the Cougars' potent offense. Kettle Run won both regular season matchups, 3-1 and 5-4, but the latter May 1 game was the Cougars' their slimmest margin of victory this season.

“Those losses were tough to take,” said James Monroe coach Shamus Gordon. “I said after the 5-4 [loss] that the conference final is all that matters, and we did it.”

“They are one of the more difficult matchups we have seen,” Kettle Run head coach Philip Roper said. “They play us well.”

The first half ended in a scoreless tie, a rare occurrence for Kettle Run. The Cougars beat their previous opponents by 3.7 goals per game, and shut out six teams. But James Monroe knows how to hang around. Half of its losses have been by just one goal.

One possible secret? The Yellow Jackets yell “Family” after their pregame huddles, and they believe it helps.

“We win with teamwork,” Gordon said. “It's one thing to talk about it, but these guys go out there and play with it. They have grown to realize that playing as a family is the key to winning these games.”

With the match tied, 1-1, and less than four minutes remaining in the second half, James Monroe midfielder Miguel Hernandez had possession along the right wing, and ran a give-and-go play. He cut in after receiving another pass and scored on a shot into the top left corner of the goal.

That gave the Yellow Jackets a 2-1 lead with 3 minutes, 25 seconds remaining.

“This is crazy,” Hernandez said. “I think I got lucky with that shot. My adrenaline is pumping right now.”

Kettle Run lost despite owning almost every positive statistic. The Cougars had 12 shots to James Monroe’s five, dominated possession and won the majority of balls in the air.

But the Yellow Jackets won some physical battles that aren’t recorded on a stat sheet. A normally unruffled Kettle Run offense appeared irked by what they perceived as trips, pushes and body checks.

“We always try to play as physical as we can,” Gordon said. “We took some chances, but the refs called an excellent game for both sides.”

The Cougars had scarce offensive chances from close range, and James Monroe kept them near the sidelines or 10 yards above the penalty box.

“We focused on stopping a couple of the players who they run their possessions through,” Gordon said. “We stopped their overlapping action on the outsides by pinning our halfbacks to threats, and we were jumping on inside passes all day.”

“We tend to struggle with [James Monroe’s] pace,” Roper said. “They run quick movement on defense, and their offensive tempo can be difficult for us.”

The first Cougars' goal seemed like it took forever to develop. The sequence was initiated with 30:23 remaining in the second half. A James Monroe defender blocked a shot by midfielder Jake Watrous that rebounded to forward Bhayle Kearns. He used a first-touch shot into the right corner for a 1-0 lead.

James Monroe responded with 17:34 remaining. Kettle Run goalie Jakob Schoenike dove to block a shot, which caromed to the feet of a sprinting Khari Jones, who thought quickly and shot into a wide open net.

The Yellow Jackets were efficient with two goals on five total shots.

“They played their tails off tonight,” Gordon said. “Doesn’t really matter how we did it. All that matters is that we are the conference champions.”

Roper said that his team learned a lot about themselves as they head to regions.

“We have to play at a quicker pace,” Roper said. “This could be good for us; we have a chip on our shoulder now.”

Kettle Run will face either the winner of a match between William Monroe and John Champe in the Conference 28 final Friday night.

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