It happened again to Northern Nash.
And this time, it likely will prove to be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.
For the second time this season, the Knights allowed a goal in the final minute of regulation, conceding an 80th-minute score to Rocky Mount High in the Gryphons’ 2-1 victory Wednesday at Northern Nash High School.
The victory clinched the No. 4 seed in the Big East Conference for Rocky Mount, keeping the Gryphons eligible for a likely wild-card bid, while the Knights take fifth. They will have to win the Big East Tournament to make the playoffs.
“We just don’t have the mentality to put teams away when we can,” Northern Nash coach Joe McCarthy said. “... We’ve just got to be better at closing out games.”
Northern Nash (9-7-2, 2-7 Big East) led Wilson Hunt, 3-2, on Oct. 2, only to allow a goal in the final second of regular time and then lose in extra time.
The Knights had a chance to lock up the Big East’s fourth seed Wednesday against the Gryphons (9-9-3, 3-5-2) and looked as if they would at least grant themselves extra time.
In a game with few chances, Rocky Mount scored on the first decent opportunity of the game. Kevin Ramirez’s corner found Khalideo Jackson-Davis for a 21st-minute lead, after which the game stagnated in the midfield.
Northern Nash went more than 40 minutes without a shot on goal until Tyler Jones completed a run that tied the game in the 72nd minute. Jones took possession near the corner of the 18-yard box, won the edge, beat two defenders and scored from a sharp angle, and from nothing, Northern Nash had a tie game.
“My one player, he knows I’m going to get on his tail, I told him not to let (Jones) go, and there was a reason I told him not to let (Jones) go,” Rocky Mount coach Drew Nick said. “You see what happens when you let him go.”
Northern Nash thought the game was shifting in its favor.
“I thought right then, the whole momentum switched,” McCarthy said.
With less than a minute to play, Garrett Webb forced a clearance in the Knights’ defensive third, which won a throw for Rocky Mount. Ramirez threw in to Webb, who ran across the face of the Knights’ goal and fired a right-footed shot just behind the penalty spot which hit the back of the net with 17.5 seconds to play.
“That was a hell of a shot,” McCarthy said. “He ran 25 yards across our box. What can you do?”
Rocky Mount was in scramble mode, just hoping for anything. It earned the best chance it had all night.
“I was just trying to rush it,” Webb said. “We didn’t have much time left, and I knew I had to get something off quick. I made good contact with it.”
For the third consecutive year, the two teams will meet in the Big East Conference Tournament’s first round. Northern Nash will travel to Rocky Mount on Monday with the winner going to No. 1 seed Wilson Hunt.
“I love the rivalry. I love the passion between the two teams. It’s like this all the time,” Nick said. “Both teams played exceptionally well, we just happened to get that break at the end, which was fortunate for us.”
The Knights finish the regular season today at Nash Central, but the game has no bearing on seeding.
In addition to the two last-minute home losses, Northern Nash also lost in extra time to Wilson Fike.
For the Knights, the three close losses only left them to wonder what could have been.
“We were 15 seconds away from a whole different outlook,” McCarthy said.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com