Playing in the state playoffs for the first time since 2011, No. 16 Triton scored three goals in the second half to beat visiting No. 17 Terry Sanford in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A boys soccer state playoffs on Wednesday night.
“I said before the game that we were matched up with a dead even team,” said Triton coach Brian Foster. “We’ve played teams that they’ve played. They split. We split. We knew it was going to be dead even. The difference they had tonight is they are huge. They are a good team and they are huge. Any time that they had free kicks, deep throw-ins, corner kicks, we were on our heels. They scored the first goal off of that.
“We went in at halftime and we felt like we were the better team and that if we played in the second half like we did last week (in the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference tournament), we were going to be fine. We came out, played like we did in the second half last week and we were fine.”
Sophomore Benny Villalvazo had two goals to lead the Hawks (14-8-2), senior Arthur Torres had one goal and sophomore Francisco Martinez had one assist.
Foster was pleased with the play of Triton’s defenders against Terry Sanford’s size advantage.
“We really defended well against a team that’s really big and really tall,” Foster said. “That was all we worked on yesterday in practice was corner kicks, deep throws and penalty kicks. And thank God we didn’t need penalty kicks.”
Senior goalkeeper Cristian Delcid was a strong performer for Triton, recording six saves and making several key plays in the contest.
“He’s been around forever. I think he’s been with this program longer than I have,” joked Foster. “In the first half he touches a ball over or that ball was going in. And that is going to allow them to think they’re going to dominate us. He pokes that ball over and saves us. It’s even the things he does that aren’t saves. The way he comes up and takes the ball off of the fullbacks and plays it up the field.
“When he comes out and he claims crosses and things like that at the end when they’re throwing the kitchen sink at us. He’s coming out and he’s claiming everything. That’s what he does. He’s a big, tall boy. He’s athletic. He does what he’s supposed to do and he’s the best goalkeeper we’ve ever had.”
Senior Thomas Harris had the lone goal for the Bulldogs (14-9-1).
After the teams stalemated for most of the first half, Harris scored to put the Bulldogs on the board with 4:07 left in the first half. Terry Sanford took that 1-0 lead into halftime.
Torres scored the equalizer early in the second half on a breakaway off of a through ball from David Mencia with 32:04 left in the second half.
“To quote a player from the defense on their team, ‘That kid (Torres) is good. Where’s he playing in college?’” Foster said.
Late in the game, Torres had a breakaway opportunity and drew a foul in the box. Triton was awarded a penalty kick, which Villalvazo buried with 2:57 left in the second half to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
Later in the game, Delcid scooped up a Bulldog attack and unleashed a long punt, which Martinez played in stride, taking the ball into the left corner and sending a cross to Villalvazo, who found the back of the net to clinch the game with 12 seconds left.
“He’s (Villalvazo) been around the block and he’s just a sophomore,” Foster said. “He’s absolutely calm. No change in his pulse rate at any time whatsoever. He steps up to take a PK and put us in the lead. And then steps up at the end of the game just to add a little icing on top. Calmly takes the ball, settles it onto his strong foot and mashes it into the goal. It’s what he does.”
Triton will travel to top-seeded Jacksonville (17-1-1) on Saturday for the second round of the playoffs. The Cardinals beat No. 32 North Brunswick 5-0 in the first round on Wednesday.