MORGANTOWN — It doesn’t really matter what sport it is, or the records of the teams — it’s going to be a battle.
On Thursday night at balmy, breezy Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium, the No. 2-ranked, undefeated University High boys’ soccer team and Morgantown engaged in a spirited, physical but clean, elevated brand of soccer, and the match remained evenly played — until UHS’s senior talent took over late in the first half. A pair of lovely goals from Joseph Biafora and Mason Shockley broke the ice and spurred the Hawks to a 4-0 win.
Both teams traded possession and chances throughout the first half until the 33rd minute, when sophomore John Michael Jones, returning from an injury, served a perfect corner kick cross into the box onto the head of all-state striker Biafora. His powerful header from 10 yards out zipped into the corner for a sudden, 1-nil lead. Four minutes later, Shockley gathered a long pass into space along the right sideline, and with his favorite move, dipped his shoulder, powered around the edge, and snapped a quick, low shot past a hopelessly exposed John McConnell in net to double the lead.
MHS (3-6) nearly sliced the advantage in half just a minute into the second half on a dangerous corner, but the final finish slid just wide. And the Hawks (8-0) made them quickly pay a minute later, as Jones slashed left across the top of the penalty area, beating three defenders, and drilled a low, left foot cross body shot into the opposite corner for a 3-0 lead.
The Mohigans Jeffrey Okai nearly dented the MHS side of the scoreboard in the 64th minute, but UHS keeper Tim Bailey fought off the tricky 20-yard shot. And it didn’t take Biafora long to capitalize, as he niftily flicked a ball over the defense on the counter-attack, raced in and drew a foul in the box, then buried the penalty kick for the final tally of the game.
MHS coach Sam Snyder easily encapsulated the positives and negatives for his improving team.
“We knew we wanted to limit set pieces, because Jo-Jo has hurt us so many times before,” he said, smiling. “And of course, he beats us on a set piece, which shows what a great player he is. We had just a few mental lapses, and they ended up in the back of our net, like they often do. But we were excited to see where we stood against one of the best teams in the state, and for long stretches, I thought we more than held our own.
“We’re about halfway through the season,” he continued, “and we’re still growing and improving, and if we can get a few things cleaned up, I like where we’re going.”
His sideline counterpart Dustin Talton saw the match much the same way.
“It is so good to see quality soccer at this level, especially from a team as young as Sam’s,” he said. “They were organized and skilled and much improved, and both teams were challenged and had to perform well to be successful.”
When assessing his Hawks, Talton enthused about their response to the emotions of a rivalry game.
“We were a little tight early on, especially on offense,” he explained. “Plenty of energy, and the defensive effort was definitely there, but we were a little hectic, not as composed on the ball as we usually are. But we started to settle in and found our rhythm toward the end of the first half, played the simple ball and used the width of the field to our advantage. We improved throughout the game, which is what you always like to see, and I like the fact that we had to work through our nerves and emotions to learn to execute under that pressure. That alone made it a very good night for us.”
Morgantown travels to Washington on Saturday, while the Hawks host George Washington at 4 p.m. Saturday.