Northern Nash nearly took hold of the game in the first half hour.
Rocky Mount High nearly wrestled the game away from the Knights in the second period of extra time.
In between, there were dozens of almost-swings.
At the conclusion, it was a game of nearlys for both sides, as 100 minutes could not decide a winner in a 1-1 draw Monday at Northern Nash High School.
“I love to coach in these games,” Rocky Mount coach Drew Nick said. “I’d love to have won it, but in the end, you have to commend both teams for playing that hard for 100 minutes.”
Rocky Mount (4-7-1, 1-3-1 Big East Conference) was sloppy with possession in the game’s early moments, and after a while, the Knights (4-4-3, 1-2-2) made them pay for it.
A poor clearance came to the feet of Northern Nash midfielder Corbin Griffin, who took one touch to his left and struck the back of the net in the 21st minute.
The Knights consistently were able to work the ball into the attacking third, though the final touch continued to elude them. Several chances went wayward, and a sure goal was spoiled by Rocky Mount goalkeeper Drew Thompson.
“I thought we had the opportunities to score at least two, if not three goals, in the first 80 minutes,” Northern Nash coach Joe McCarthy said. “I thought we were the better team through the first 80 minutes.”
Rocky Mount switched its formation to an offensive 3-4-3 midway through the second half and moved defender Logan Barnes to midfield in the process.
The move paid immediate dividends for the Gryphons.
Barnes and Brandon Rotimi played an excellent one-two pass along the right sideline, after which Rotimi crossed into the box. David Aristazabal made no mistake with the cross, tucking the ball inside the near post for a 61st-minute goal.
“It was a great effort by our whole forward line,” Aristazabal said. “I ended up in the right place at the right moment, and I just wanted to have a good finish.”
Neither side could break through in the final minutes of regulation or in extra time, though both came close.
Northern Nash winger Jose Rodriguez beat Thompson but hit the bar in the final minute of regulation, then Rocky Mount pressed an exhausted Northern Nash team for the entire second period of extra time.
In the 98th minute, Barnes had a beautiful strike from 24 yards away that was curling into the goal, but Northern Nash goalkeeper Ben Roy fully extended to his right, knocking the ball away and forcing a corner.
“I didn’t have a good foundation at all because there is sand inside the box on that one end,” Roy said. “So I just went parallel and was able to get my fingers on it, even if I couldn’t hold it.”
“That was one of the greatest saves in the history of Northern Nash,” said McCarthy, who started with Northern Nash’s soccer program in 1988. “I don’t think he even saw it until the last possible second, but he still found some way to get there in time.”
Though both teams rightly felt they could have earned a victory Monday, a draw was fitting.
“Both teams really played out of their minds,” Nick said. “It was a hard-fought game. This rivalry deserves games like this.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or at npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com