Gray Stone men’s soccer wins 1A regional title, punches ticket to state finals

Published 8:46 am Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Gray Stone Knights men’s soccer team found itself in territory like never before, having reached the regional finals for the first time in school history.

Gray Stone made the two-hour western trek to Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy in Moorseboro Tuesday night to take on the undefeated top-seeded Gryphons.

The Knights broke through early in the first half and never looked back, earning a 1-0 win and advancing to the school’s first state finals in men’s soccer.

Senior Tucker Emerson scored the lone goal of the game for Gray Stone (20-2-2) in the 13th minute. The Knights intercepted a clear attempt by Thomas Jefferson (20-1-2) at the midfield circle and moved down the left side of the field facing the Gryphons’ goal.

A Gray Stone player dribbled past a defender on the left wing and sent a long pass which reached the edge of the penalty area. The ball got to Desmond Bullard, who avoided a double team and sent the ball off his left foot through two other defenders.

The ball rolled into an open spot of field just outside the goal area and became a 50-50 ball between Emerson and a defender. Emerson then took the ball away from a Gryphon defender with his left foot then sent a low shot off his right foot into the bottom left corner of the goal past the diving save attempt of the Thomas Jefferson goalkeeper.

It was Emerson’s 19th goal of the season.

Gray Stone head coach Brad Harrington said it “was a much needed goal. Watching film on Thomas Jefferson, they’ve been super solid defensively all year. They only gave up 13 goals coming into this game.”

In the second half, the Gryphons had a header right in the goal area but Collin Cape punched the ball over the crossbar. Later in the 57th minute, a long shot just went over the crossbar.

Cape earned his 13th win in goal for the Knights making several saves and earning his fourth shutout of the season.

“We knew if we could get (a goal) early, they kind of struggled scoring goals, so one goal would feel like two,” Harrington said. “To our credit, our guys were able to put a little bit of pressure on them early…a one goal lead against a really good team is obviously a huge advantage.”

He said the Knights did not change strategies leading 1-0 in the second half, adding “we knew Thomas Jefferson at times might pin us back a little bit.”

Harrington, a Gray Stone graduate who played for the Knights in his high school days, said after the win he was still processing what it meant to be going to the state finals.

“It’s our first ever state title trip…it’s pretty exciting, and to do it with this group of guys is really special,” Harrington said. “They put in all the hard work; I’m just here helping them along the way.”

The Knights will play the No. 1 seed from the Eastern Region, the Hobbton Wildcats (23-3-1), at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at MacPherson Stadium in Browns Summit. Hobbton won the Eastern Region title Tuesday night versus No. 3 seed North Moore, 3-1. Hobbton has won 11 in a row.

Gray Stone enters the 1A state title game on a 20-game unbeaten streak, going 19-0-1 after losing 6-1 at West Cabarrus Sept. 5.

The Knights are the first high school in Stanly to reach the men’s soccer state finals since Albemarle in 2008. The Bulldogs also reached the 1A finals in 2002.

North Stanly is the only Stanly school to win a state title. Coach Bob Parry and the Comets won the 1993 2A title 2-0 over Southwest Guilford.

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.

email author More by Charles