A team that intends to play possession soccer must control the game’s pace. There’s little gray area: Either they do or don’t, and that fact usually indicates whether they won.
For Northern Nash, it was fitting that a game they needed badly was played at its discretion. The Knights defeated Rocky Mount High, 1-0, Wednesday at Rocky Mount High School, guaranteeing them the No. 4 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament and likely a playoffs berth.
“We’re back to playing more possession,” Northern Nash coach Joe McCarthy said. “We’ve gone back to the basics of what we can do, and we’re learning how to move and control games.”
The only scenario in which Northern Nash (6-7-3, 3-5-2) will not make the playoffs is if Rocky Mount or Nash Central, the No. 5 and 6 seeds in the conference tournament, win the Big East Tournament. The two sides have two combined conference victories this season.
Rocky Mount (4-11-1, 1-7-1) needed a win and a draw from its final two games to finish in the top four spots, meaning the Gryphons are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since coach Drew Nick took over in 2008.
The Gryphons travel to Wilson Hunt today, though the game is inconsequential for Rocky Mount.
“I love that the kids have kept fighting the whole way, but hard work doesn’t necessarily guarantee wins,” Nick said.
Northern Nash dominated the first half, though a goal eluded it for nearly 40 minutes.
A header from a corner was turned away on the goal line in the seventh minute, then Rocky Mount goalkeeper Drew Thompson saved Thomas Roy’s effort from 12 yards away in the 13th minute.
Jose Rodriguez struck the bar 17 minutes later, though he was well-positioned to put Northern Nash ahead in the 39th minute. The Gryphons failed to completely clear a cross, and Rodriguez’s strike from the top of the 18-yard box went into the top left corner of the goal.
Neither side broke the goal line again.
“We can’t net balls,” Nick said. “We made one mistake, but that’s all it takes if you can’t put the ball in the net.”
Northern Nash continued to control the game’s pace in the second half, going forward regularly but staying mindful to not allow counter-attacks.
Rocky Mount nearly equalized in the 46th minute on a header from a corner kick, but Jacob Kauer was waiting at the goal line to clear the ball.
Knights midfielder Joey Simpson was an attack spoiler for Rocky Mount, and his efforts in the final third kept pressure away from Ben Roy’s goal.
“In my 24 years at Northern Nash, that was one of the better defensive games I’ve seen,” McCarthy said. “He’s smart, and he played aggressive (Wednesday). He rarely took himself out of position.”
Should seeds hold, the Knights likely will play Jacksonville, the No. 1 ranked team in 3-A, in the first round.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or at npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.