Gray Stone men’s soccer reaches Final Four with wins this week

Published 2:49 pm Saturday, November 11, 2023

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The 2023 Gray Stone men’s soccer team has done something this season no other men’s soccer team has in the school’s history.

With two wins this week in the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs, the Knights have reached the Final Four and are in the Western Region finals.

Gray Stone’s women’s soccer team has reached the final twice in school history, but the men’s team had not before this week.

The Knights, the No. 3 seed in the West, will head to No. 1 seed Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy Tuesday. The Gryphons (20-0-2) reached the regional finals with wins over Albemarle 5-1, Corvian Community 2-1 and consecutive 1-0 wins versus Polk County and Bishop McGuinness.

Monday’s Game

Gray Stone 4, Piedmont Community Charter 1

The Knights played the team’s third straight home game in the playoffs Monday and earned a 4-1 win over the Patriots (14-4-4).

Desmond Bullard, the all-time leading goal scorer in the history of the program, had a hat trick with three goals to lead Gray Stone. Arkyn Pethel added a goal and an assist, and AJ Cotoni had an assist.

Collin Cape earned the win in goal for the Knights giving up one goal via penalty kick to Piedmont Community.

Thursday’s Game

Gray Stone 5, Mount Airy 2

The Knights went on the road Thursday as the No. 3 seed in the West to face the No. 2 Granite Bears. Gray Stone pulled away late in the second half, scoring three unanswered gaols to put the Knights into the 1A Final Four, handing Mount Airy its first loss of the season.

Mount Airy (20-1-2) scored first in the 10th minute off a cross into the six-yard box.

The Knights tied the game in the 37th minute off a long throw-in from Tucker Emerson. Desmond Bullard flicked it to the back post and Pethel got a touch on the ball to Walker Bullard for the goal.

Pethel gave Gray Stone a 2-1 lead five minutes into the second half off a long throw in. After the ball popped up in the air, Pethel scored with a bicycle kick.

In the 50th minute, Mount Airy tied the game from a rebound off a direct free kick, but the Knights answered five minutes later. Desmond Bullard’s penalty kick in the low corner of the net proved to be the game-winning goal.

Michael Burleson converted on a 1-2 passing combo between himself and Pethel in the 65th minute, putting the Knights up by two.

Emerson scored two minutes later after throwing the ball in, then converting on an errant Mt. Airy clearance with a shot and a goal.

“I’m just extremely proud of my guys and our entire team.  We knew Mt. Airy was going to be a very tough test for us, due to how well they have been playing all year, their style of play, and us having to adjust from being on the larger field at Pfeiffer to a much smaller playing surface at Mt. Airy,” Gray Stone head coach Bradley Harrington said. “I felt it took our guys about 20 minutes or so to get settled into the speed of the game and the tight, combative nature of play that takes place on a smaller field and against a really good team in Mt. Airy.”

Harrington said Walker Bullard’s goal in the first half “was huge for our guys and one that gave them belief and momentum right before halftime that we were able to carry into the second half.”

Harrington said Gray Stone was “able to keep Mt. Airy at bay a good bit in the second half, minus the free kick that led to a goal, but our guys just made big play after big play and we were able to score some amazing goals in the second half to advance.”

“My team and players deserve all the credit,” he added. “Winning a road playoff game in a hostile environment this deep in the playoffs is very hard to do, but they are on a mission. We are playing well with belief in one another and that makes us a dangerous team this time of year.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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