For the majority of the 2012 season, Scotland varsity junior forward Keon Grant has been seen tearing down the soccer field, giving opposing defenders fits with his blazing speed.
But Grant wasn’t in the lineup for Scotland’s first home game in nearly two weeks Monday night. Instead, Grant arrived shortly before the match with Lumberton and cheered his teammates on from the sidelines as the Scots fell to the Pirates by a score of 3-0.
Grant had come straight from Scotland Memorial Hospital upon learning that his cousin, 17 year-old wrestler Tavarius Hall, died after collapsing during an off-season conditioning session.
Though the Fighting Scots have had their share of struggles during the season, coach Colin McDavid is proud of the strength shown by Grant and believes his commitment is a true testament to the camaraderie present on the team.
“Keon was in tears, but the fact that he was there to show support to his teammates says a lot about who he is,” said McDavid, who was one of the first responders on the scene when news of Hall’s collapse broke. McDavid’s team has plans of making a monetary donation to the family of Hall early next week.
“That’s what sports are all about. You want to win, but you develop into a family along the way, and Keon is one of ours,” he said.
Prior to Monday’s game against the Pirates, the soccer Scots had endured their most grueling stretch of the season. A string of three consecutive road games began at Pinecrest, where a scary head-on collision between Scotland goalkeeper Robert McMillian and Afiz Lateef caused a stoppage during play. Lateef would come away from the play unscathed, but McMillian would require 12 stitches to repair a gash over his right eye. The senior goalkeeper hasn’t played since, and the Scots would go on to lose 5-0 despite a valiant performance by Victor Still who filled in for McMillian that game.
Though the score indicates a lopsided loss, Scotland had just two less shots on goal compared to Pinecrest (seven shots to Pinecrest’s nine).
“Victor is a pure athlete, and he looked like Superman when he came in for Robert,” McDavid said. “Our guys in general had a good game, which makes the loss against Pinecrest tough to swallow because we just didn’t capitalize on our opportunities.”
Two days later, Scotland would travel to Hoke in what would be an exhausting two-overtime game which the Scots would lose 2-0. Both of Hoke’s goals came in the second overtime period.
“We played hard the entire game, and had chance after chance to break the 0-0 tie in the first overtime period,” McDavid said. “But as soon as we lost focus in the second overtime, that’s when they struck. It less about our guys being fatigued and more about our lack of concentration.”
Whether fatigue played a hand in Scotland’s late loss to Hoke or not, the Fighting Scots had a game the very next day at Terry Sanford. Perhaps still reeling from the game before, Scotland would be handily defeated by the Bulldogs 8-0.
“If I had a chance to go back and change our season schedule, I wouldn’t change a thing,” McDavid said. “I set it up this way to see my guys play their absolute hardest against tough competition because it will make them better players in the long run.”
Scotland began Monday’s game with Lumberton by holding a moment of silence for Devin Gardner, the SHS senior who was killed in a car accident approximately two weeks ago. Word had already begun to spread about Hall’s passing at the game prior to the honoring of Gardner.
Even with heavy hearts, the Fighting Scots hung with the Pirates step-for-step and even outplayed their conference foe in the second half of regulation. Stepping in for Grant at forward, Lateef nearly gave Scotland the early 1-0 lead after breaking away from the Lumberton defense in the 12th minute for a one-on-one situation with Lumberton’s goalkeeper. Lateef was unsuccessful, however, and three minutes later Colby Johnson would give his Pirates’ squad the lead with a breakaway goal of his own.
Scotland’s best chance to tie came in the 29th minute, when a lob pass from Bill Killough gave Still an open look at the Lumberton goal. Still would fire a strike at the right goal post, but a diving stop from the Pirates’ keeper prevented the Scots from getting on the board. The score would be 2-0 entering half time after a late goal from Lumberton’s Luis Watkins came in the waning minutes of the first half.
To start the second half of regulation, McDavid switched to a more offensive-minded lineup and it nearly paid dividends. After a standout game on both offense and defense, Scots team co-captain Joe Sojka took a shot at Lumberton’s goal in the 60th minute and came up just short with a strike that bent just left of the box. The Scots had several opportunities throughout the second half, including a second strike from Lateef that was set up by a Sojka pass in the 64th minute.
But Lumberton’s Johnson would score his second goal on the night a few short minutes later after Scotland’s offensive flurry, which would effectively put the game out of reach for the Scots.
It’s been a season full of tribulations for the Scotland varsity soccer team, but that hasn’t stopped Grant and his teammates from continuing to press forward. After missing Monday’s game, Grant would make the trip to Richmond to take on the Raiders Wednesday night, though that game ended in a 4-0 loss.
For McDavid, his team’s willingness to continue battling through the losses and hardships will dictate the remainder of the season.
“Keon was in great spirits for our game against Richmond, and we all just focused on the game rather than his loss because that was the best thing to do,” McDavid said. “At this point, we just need to keep playing and competing, and if we do that then our chances of getting that big turnaround victory will get better.”
The Fighting Scots will travel to East Montgomery on Monday for a varsity-only non-conference game.