ROCKINGHAM — When two rivals meet and engage in a closely contested battle, one or two moments can determine the difference between who comes out on top and who trudges home in defeat.
And in Scotland’s boys soccer match with Richmond Wednesday night, defensive mistakes in the opening and closing 20 seconds of the first half doomed the visitors and ended their chance at spoiling the Raiders’ Senior Night festivities.
Richmond scored 17 seconds into the game to take the early lead against its rivals to the east, then added one more with three ticks on the first-half clock — two goals that ended up being the winning margin in the Raiders’ 5-3 victory in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Scotland dropped to 7-11 this season and 2-8 in the Southeastern Conference while the win improved Richmond to 11-4 and 7-3 in the conference. The Raiders secured the No. 2 seed for next week’s SEC tournament, while the Scots are slotted as the No. 5 seed.
“We played well in spurts,” said Richmond coach Bennie Howard. “Hats off to Scotland, they did not quit. They made it interesting.”
The Raiders got on the board first when Ryan Watkins found the back of the net at the 39:43 mark of the first half and proceeded to tack on two more goals in a 10-minute span to seemingly put the contest out of reach before it even started. Manuel Zapata scored Richmond’s second goal with 32:20 remaining before the break, then Zapata struck again less than two minutes later when Alex Lopez assisted him for his second score.
After that early outburst, the Raiders “went to sleep” according to Howard as Scotland closed the gap to 3-2 in less than 15 minutes.
Nyjel-Collins Jackson scored Scotland’s first goal at the 20:53 mark on a free kick that bounced off the shoes of goalkeeper Corey Smith and rolled into the net. Eurie Smith followed with a goal when he dribbled uncontested into the box and snuck it past a diving Smith.
“They fought back, they worked really hard,” Scotland coach Danny Gallagher said.
With time ticking down in the first half, Scotland pressed forward to try to notch the equalizing goal before the break. But Richmond launched a successful counterattack after clearing the ball, and Alex Alvarado fought off multiple Scots to win a cross inside the box before launching it past goalkeeper Tripp Wells for the goal.
“It’s one of those things with game-management and gamesmanship. Understanding what they need to do and understand the situation,” Gallagher said. “That goal right at half, that’s what I put down as the difference.”
That score put a halt to Scotland’s momentum, and Gallagher’s team was unable to regain it in the second half.
“This team has the ability to put the pedal down and put the nail in the coffin. That’s what you have to do sometimes,” Howard said.
Alvarado added a second goal with 22:52 left in the contest when he put home a penalty kick, sailing the ball into the top right corner of the net over Wells’ outstretched arms.
The Scots were able to put one more on the board thanks to a passing error by Smith. The junior goalkeeper casually picked up a slow-dribbling ball when it reached him, then tried to throw it to one of Richmond’s defenders. The pass sailed to the right and found the foot of Scotland’s Travis Jackson, who calmly booted the ball past Smith for the Scots’ final goal.
Scotland will travel to play Hoke Monday for the quarterfinal round of the SEC tournament, and Richmond will enjoy the first round bye and will await the winner of the Lumberton-Purnell Swett contest.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.