GREENVILLE – Friday’s showdown between a pair of undefeated squads lived up to its billing before Riverheads’ senior James Kasak decided to take matters into his own feet.
With the game just eight minutes old, Kasak, a Virginia Tech bound recruit, blasted a left-footed shot past Stuarts Draft goalkeeper Ryan Thompson after receiving a pass from senior Eli Knopp.
That goal got the Gladiators started as they came away with a 4-1 victory over the Cougars in Shenandoah District action.
“It’s great to have a player like James, and Eli is a workhorse for us,” said Riverheads head coach Scott Harrison, whose team improved to 9-0.
In addition to being a Rt. 340 neighborhood rivalry match, it also was a meeting between some Stuarts Draft and Riverheads players who had both played for Harrison on travel soccer teams.
“Those boys (for Stuarts Draft) really wanted to beat me,” Harrison said.
The Cougars’ attack of Caleb Oakes, J.P. Rader and Josh Huff put a lot of early offensive pressure on Gladiators’ goalie Chandler McClister, but the Riverheads’ defense, led by Tristan Robson, held firm despite several Cougar goal-scoring opportunities.
“We had some good chances, but missed those opportunities and the momentum started to shift,” said SDHS head coach Paige Adams, who is in his first season in charge of the Cougars. “I thought Riverheads was a little more mentally into it and a little more hungry.”
Kasak’s first goal actually came against the run of play as the Cougars (8-1) mounted a sharp passing attack.
Draft goalkeeper Will Wilkerson came up big, as did McClister through the rest of the first 40 minutes.
But six minutes before the intermission, Kasak outmaneuvered the defense with a move on the wing and crossed the ball across the goal mouth, where a waiting Isaiah Knopp finished the play and deposited the ball into the net for a 2-0 Gladiators’ lead.
Just before the half, the Cougars pushed deep into Red Pride territory and had a late chance to score when a high bounce sailed over the head of McClister. But the alert Riverheads’ defense cleared the ball just in time to avert a goal.
Kasak struck again two minutes into the second half, converting a loose ball rebound to effectively put the match out of reach.
The Cougars continued to mount attacks with several more scoring chances, but the Riverheads’ defense refused to break down.
The fourth Riverheads goal came after Eli Knopp weaved his way through three Cougars and pushed the ball past Thompson at the 12:48 mark.
The Draft’s persistence was finally rewarded with 6:22 remaining in the match when Will Wilkerson followed up a long rebound with a blast past McClister from about 28 yards out.
“We normally run a 4-5-1 formation, but we pushed some midfielders up to support Kasak and I think that helped,” Harrison said. “We got some more numbers pushing forward.”
The win improved Riverheads to 9-0 while dropping the Draft to 8-1.