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Kettle Run boys soccer holds off most offensively productive team in nearly 3 years

Friday, May. 1 | By Jeff Malmgren
Jed Dalton scored twice Friday during Kettle Run's 5-4 win over James Monroe. --Fauquier Times Staff File Photo/Randy Litzinger
James Monroe scored more goals Friday against Kettle Run than any team has since May 8, 2012.

That’s a span of 50 boys soccer matches.

Yet the Yellow Jackets still fell two goals short of removing a prefix from the undefeated Cougars.

With an unusually narrow victory, 5-4, Kettle Run improved its record this season to 9-0-1 overall and 6-0 in Conference 27, lengthening its lead in the league standings. The Cougars had outscored their opponents by 3.6 goals per game prior to Friday, but they needed a second-half score by Mitch Jansce and an incredible ensuing defensive stop by Austin Briles to hold off the Yellow Jackets (6-4 overall, 4-3 Conference 27) at home in Nokesville.

“We played well enough to get the ‘W’ but we need to play a lot better,” Kettle Run coach Philip Roper said.

Last season, the Cougars allowed more than one goal in only one of their 19 games – a 3-2 loss to Blacksburg in the Class 3A state semifinals. They finished the season with only 10 goals allowed and a 17-2 record, making Kettle Run’s defense arguably the reason for its success.

The Cougars’ offense last season also looked phenomenal, though, and averaged 4.8 goals per game. Despite significant losses to graduation, not much has changed for Kettle Run in that realm. It again average 4.8 goals per match this spring.

The Cougars, however, have shown some vulnerability defensively – thrice allowing three goals in a game prior to giving up four goals to James Monroe.

“We’re still working on jelling things,” Roper said of the defense. “And we’ve got a target on our backs. All the teams … they really want to be the ones that can knock us off. I think our biggest thing is we have to match the other team’s intensity.”

Kettle Run played Friday without its usual goalkeeper, Jakob Schoenike, for the third consecutive match, and it played without Daniel Morgan, a center defender, for the first time since he suffered a groin injury during the Cougars’ 3-3 tie Wednesday with John Champe, which broke Kettle Run’s eight-game winning streak. Schoenike’s recent absence is an “in-house thing” unrelated to injury, Roper said.

In place of Schoenike, sophomore keeper Nate Crawford had seven saves Friday against a James Monroe offense aided by 18 free kicks, many of which originated from Kettle Run’s side of midfield.

“Obviously he’s not used to playing with this team,” Briles, a Kettle Run center defender, said of Crawford, a recent junior varsity call-up. “The defense could step up a little bit.”

Briles did exactly that little more than two minutes after Kettle Run broke a 4-4 tie with Jansce’s goal as 15 minutes, 32 seconds remained in the second half. With the Cougars leading by a goal, the Jackets’ Alain Nzojibwani (one goal) sprinted down field to possess a ball kicked over Kettle Run’s defenders.

Nzojibwani appeared destined for a one-on-one scoring opportunity against Crawford from about 10 yards out, but Briles suddenly closed ground on Nzojibwani and made an impressive slide tackle that knocked the ball out of bounds.

“I was kind of worried,” Briles said. “I thought that goal was going to be my fault and we were going to lose the” lead.

“He was in the box, so I made sure I didn’t grab him [and] pull him down,” Briles said. “Make sure I get around the ball and not trip him up.”

Briles’ defensive play gave James Monroe a corner kick, but that resulted in a header over the goal, preserving Kettle Run’s 5-4 lead.

“I don’t know how he got that,” Roper said of Briles’ crucial slide tackle. “If there’s somebody I want stuck in a one-on-one, Austin’s the kid I want there.

“I’m not surprised at this point about anything Austin does on defense,” Roper said. “He gets looked over sometimes just because he’s a little smaller but … he’s got to be one of the best defenders I’ve had since I’ve been coaching.”

The Cougars created a lead for Briles to preserve thanks to Jansce, who scored their fifth goal with 15:32 remaining in the second half. With the score tied, 4-4, Jansce controlled a bouncing ball about 35 yards away from the Jackets’ net. He then changed direction multiple times with the ball, using in-and-out footwork that opened up a shot from the middle of the field.

“It was sick,” Briles said. “You go, ‘What just happened?’”

To answer: Jansce scored the game-winning goal. In fact, he used some moves that he had worked on Thursday after finding out the Cougars wouldn't practice as a team that day.

“I stayed behind and did a lot of push-cut drills,” Jansce said. “So I kind of just used that to help me get through that [James Monroe] defense. … I just took the space I had.”

Jansce doesn’t start for Kettle Run, but he is part of the typical 16-man rotation that Roper uses. So the Cougars’ most important goal came from a player off the bench.

“It’s great,” Roper said. “We’ve got a lot of guys like that. I can challenge them and they’ll always step up.”

That Cougars needed Jansce’s goal because James Monroe’s Khari Jones logged his second score of the game with 24:03 remaining in the second half. That goal turned an early Kettle Run 3-1 lead into a 4-4 tie.

“Not worried,” said forward Jed Dalton, who had two goals Friday. “That’s what we thrive on – close games. We’re used to … blowouts. It’s nice to get really challenged.”

That challenge by the Yellow Jackets could have faded after the Cougars took a 4-2 lead early in the second half because Kettle Run created plenty of scoring opportunities. The Cougars finished the match with 35 shots (13 on goal) while James Monroe had only 17 (11). Many of the Cougars’ shots, however, sailed high or flew across the face of the goal.

“We need to put the ball in the back of the net,” said Roper, who also got a goal each from Reece Cooke and Garrett Magill. “We had a lot of opportunities.”

To create those chances, the Cougars often used the whole field to switch the point of attack, and they made some tremendous one-touch passes at midfield to get the ball to the feet of sprinting teammates, who never had to break stride.

“Kettle Run’s still a potent team,” Jackets coach Shamus Gordon said, comparing the 2014 Cougars to the 2015 version of the team.

Last season, James Monroe once lost to Kettle Run, 9-0, via mercy rule. The Yellow Jackets then lost only 3-1 to Kettle Run early this season.

“And this game we only lose by one,” Gordon said Friday. “So, all in all, we’re moving in the right direction. … We’ve definitely improved in our offense.”

The Jackets’ 18 free kicks put a lot of pressure on Kettle Run’s defense. They scored twice on such opportunities, including a 42-yard strike by Rafa Hernandez that narrowed James Monroe’s deficit to 4-3 with 34:41 remaining in the second half.

“Definitely it helped,” Gordon said of the free kicks. “It’s a game of opportunity. It’s a game of mistakes and capitalizing on those.”

The Cougars’ frequent fouls were a byproduct of their aggressive approach to 50/50 balls, and they seemed comfortable with that consequence.

“I’d rather play aggressive and get some fouls than play soft and get man-handled,” Dalton said.

Roper agreed, for the most part.

“We preach winning the ball in the air,” he said. “We always want to get first touch. ... Good things normally happen.”

But “I think we were getting a little over-anxious trying to win some of those balls,” Roper said.

His Cougars may have to deal with James Monroe again during the Conference 27 tournament at the end of this month.

“The game that counts is in the conference finals,” Gordon said, “and that’s one we’ll look forward to.”

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