21 May 2022
Cary, N.C. — Tate Jones picked a good time of the game to score his first goal.
After watching his team’s four-goal lead against Weddington disappear, the Mustangs’ leading scorer on the season won his team a N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state title with a game-winning goal with 10 seconds remaining to top the Warriors, 9-8. The championship is Middle Creek’s second as a program and first since 2017.
The win closed the books on a dominant campaign for Middle Creek, one that required head coach Nick Holota’s squad to survive the likes of Holly Springs (a rival) and Cardinal Gibbons (the title holders) – both teams that previously beat Middle Creek this season – on its road to the championship game. Just like its opponent Saturday, Middle Creek entered its final game on a 14-game winning streak, and the Mustangs finish with a record of 23-2 (13-1). Weddington, in its first year at the 4A level, was hoping for its fourth state title and first since winning three in a row from 2017 to 2019. The Warriors, led in scoring on Saturday by Ryan Kazella three goals, end the year at 19-4 (9-2).
Junior attacker Collin Patrick finished with goal and four assists to lead Middle Creek with five points, as he took home most valuable player honors. Senior midfielder Breyden Harrison scored a team-high three goals for the Mustangs.
The first quarter was fairly evenly matched, with multiple lead changes. Weddington led 2-1 early on following goals by Reid Cooper and Michael Cooper, but Middle Creek recorded the two final goals of the quarter on scores by junior attacker James Cardillo and junior midfielder Camden Young to lead 3-2.
Middle Creek’s Harrison entered Saturday with the second-most goals on his team (50), and the senior midfielder used a strong start to the second quarter to build the Mustangs’ advantage to three goals at 5-2. Harrison’s first goal of the day came near the end of a one-minute slashing penalty on Weddington’s Gabe Montognese, and then he found the net again two minutes later on a pace-filled shot from the slot. Middle Creek’s Patrick, a Marist commit, assisted on both goals.
Eventually, Patrick got around to getting up his own shot. At a critical juncture late in the first half, Middle Creek forced a turnover and Patrick received a clearing pass at midfield. From there, the speedster went untouched as he drove toward the net and fired home from close range, making it 6-3.
That was the score the Mustangs took into the break, and the Mustangs extended their lead to four on Harrison’s third goal (with another assist from Patrick). As the game progressed, Weddington found it harder to break down Middle Creek’s defense. On the other end of the field, the Mustangs used their depth of options to stretch out the Warrior defense. Middle Creek Freshman midfielder Jayce Knowitz illustrated that point with his first goal of the game late in the third quarter, scoring by circling the net and firing from the left flank to make it 8-4, answering a goal from Weddington’s leading scorer on the year, Kazella.
But Weddington prevented Middle Creek from going on a run and used senior midfielder Dane Johnson’s first goal of the day to make it 8-5 with just under 10 minutes in the fourth quarter. From there, the Warriors continued to mount pressure on Middle Creek. Weddington tightened up defensively and even used strong play on defense to create scoring opportunities. With just under five minutes remaining, Montognese intercepted a clearance attempt by Middle Creek goalie Dylan Axman and fed Kazella for an easy score, making it 8-6.
Kazella continued to personify Weddington’s resurgence, and the senior made it 8-7 with his third goal of the game with 1:05 remaining.
Full of belief at that point, Weddington tied the game at 8-8 with 58 seconds on a close-range shot by Reid Cooper from just beyond the crease. Unfortunately for Weddington, that was enough time for Middle Creek to answer back with the decisive goal.