With new coach, new tactics and newfound humility, Owen boys soccer advances in NCHSAA

James Crabtree-Hannigan
Asheville Citizen Times

BLACK MOUNTAIN — Once Patton's second penalty kick goal of the night hit the back of the net in the 79th minute Monday, Owen boys soccer no longer had a lead, nor the victory that was seemingly in hand just moments prior.

But what the Warhorses maintained proved more important: the belief that they could win, and the humility to accept that it wouldn't be easy.

Sixty-three seconds into extra time, Owen was back on top, quickly answering a Panthers goal for the second time in the NCHSAA 2A third-round game. And just over a minute later, the Warhorses had doubled their lead, finally putting breathing room between themselves and the visitors.

Using lessons learned from last season and a playstyle honed after an early-season coaching change, No. 10 Owen kept its composure to beat No. 15 Patton 4-2 in overtime of a back-and-forth game, moving onto the fourth round for the first time since 1998.

"That could have easily been a loss on two nonsense goals," midfielder Harrison Kendall said. "But we always kept believing. Everybody stayed together … and we got two more."

Patton's tactics Monday were reminiscent of the Lincoln Charter team that ended Owen's 2021 season with a 6-4 win in the second round.

In that game, the Warhorses were caught off guard by the quality of the Eagles, expecting they could cruise past the No. 23 seed.

"We were really cocky," midfielder Daniel Garcia said. "That really humbled us."

As the No. 10 seed this year, Owen (19-2-1) knew it wouldn't be coasting deep into the playoffs, and was prepared for a fight from the Panthers (18-5-1), whose high pressure put the backline under stress the entire game.

In response, the Warhorses showed remarkable patience and mettle. They continued playing short, simple passes around the charging Panthers and building out of the back rather than booming a long pass for a quick escape valve.

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"It's credit to the boys, because we have to work hard at that every day," coach Trei Morrison said. "What we do isn't easy, and it can be nerve-racking."

The playstyle is more common in club soccer than high school — particularly on teams with a striker as lethal as sophomore Davis Kendall — and shows the impact Morrison has made in a short time in Black Mountain.

A well-known club coach in WNC, Morrison took over the team in September, after David Fiest stepped down for personal reasons. He brought a decidedly club feel to Black Mountain, with intense practices and uncompromising standards for on-field play.

"I knew he was very strict. … He really has made me a disciplined player and made me work my socks off, and I can't thank him enough," Garcia said. "He has a lot of experience, so I put all my trust into him, because I know what he can do to take us further and further."

It was never more crucial than Monday.

An own goal gave Owen a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute, but from that point, Patton's pressure began, and the Warhorses were consistently a pass or two short of making the visitors pay.

In the 64th minute, a Panthers penalty kick tied the game at 1. Five minutes later, Davis Kendall took advantage of his best look of the night, putting his team back ahead with a clinical finish. Patton answered again, however, with another goal from the spot in the 79th minute that gave the Panthers the momentum entering extra time.

"It was obviously very devastating," Garcia said. "But the boys did so well. So well. I cannot be more proud of them for bouncing back and getting the result we wanted."

Morrison said he never doubted his players were going to pull out the win, and hardly a minute into extra time, they put themselves in position to do so.

A shot from Garcia deflected off the post right to Elijah Caro, who cleaned up for a 3-2 lead. In the next minute, Garcia played Kendall on, and WNC's leading goalscorer tallied his second of the night.

"When they work hard the way that they do and then see a result at the end of that, that's what you want to do," Morrison said. "That's why you coach the game."

The two-goal lead turned the closing minutes of the game into a celebration that continued well past the final whistle, as the team high-fived the student section and then serenaded Garcia for his 17th birthday.

But soon enough, they would be back to business at practice in preparation for Thursday's fourth-round trip to No. 6 North Forsyth (18-5-2). After all, that's the approach that's advanced them further than any Owen team of their lifetimes, putting them one win away from a regional final.

"We've worked really hard to get to this point every single day," Harrison Kendall said. "Tomorrow, we're still going to work hard in practice. It's not a rest day. We haven't had a single rest day, and that has contributed to our success."