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Rams upset Kerr-Vance

AHOSKIE – If the Ridgecroft Rams needed to make a strong statement on the soccer field, what better time to get it than on Senior Day, and who better to get it against than the number-three ranked team in the state.

That was the case Tuesday as the Rams honored seniors Hanes Joyner and Asher Turner in their final regular-season match on Mike Bryant Field and Ridgecroft came away with a 2-1 upset win over Kerr-Vance Academy. The Spartans are ranked third in the latest North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association poll.

“They were up for it,” said Rams’ coach Aron Martin after the match. “Certainly a very physical contest on both sides and after losing by the same score at their place we needed to turn it around here.”

The play was physical for sure as three yellow cards were issued in the match and a costly penalty by Kerr-Vance early in the first half led to Ridgecroft’s first score of the afternoon.

The Rams went on the attack six minutes into the contest and as senior captain Hanes Joyner was weaving his way through defenders toward the goal on the left side when a Kerr-Vance player was called for a hand-ball violation setting up a penalty kick, which Joyner nailed 30 seconds later into the right side of the net just past the outstretched hands of the goalie and giving Ridgecroft an early 1-0 lead.

“It made for a tense moment,” recalled Martin of that first score, “and we were a little scared it was going to get caught in the back of the net, and that could have changed the mindset of the whole game.”

Two minutes later, Joyner had another chance on the left side to double the score, but the shot off his foot sailed high over the crossbar.

Kerr-Vance then began to spread the field and the physical play intensified, but the referee kept the match in check as a pair of Rams players and one Spartan player received yellow cards and things began to settle down as the crowd enjoyed each team having chances to score, but were turned away with outstanding defense and goal-keeping.

Miles Harrell had one of the Rams’ best attempts with seven minutes to play with a shot from the left side, but the shot was smothered by the Spartan goalie.

With less than two minutes to play in the half, freshman Michael Byrum, who’d been moved to the right side in his forward position, took a pass from Harrell directly in front of the net and found the twine for the Rams’ second goal and a 2-0 Ridgecroft lead that held to the halftime whistle.

The second half opened with Ridgecroft looking for more insurance goals, but the effort took its toll as fatigue began to set in, and Martin became much more efficient in his substitutions.

A pair of Joyner shots sailed high and at the other end, Rams’ keeper Ethan Phelps made two outstanding saves on shots with one going just off his fingertips and another he fell on with three Spartans right in front of the net.

Kerr-Vance would not be denied for the entire afternoon, as with 13 minutes to play striker Mark Faulkner on a direct-kick sent one over the Rams line and the outstretched hand of Phelps into the net and the Spartans had pulled within a goal at 2-1.

From there it was outstanding defense and hustle on the part of the Rams to maintain the lead. In the final two minutes Kerr-Vance’s Colton Tabbert beat defenders, but was turned away with a pair of spectacular saves from Phelps and as the final whistle sounded an exhausted Rams team had claimed a much-needed win.

“We were a bit panicky at times with the lead,” said Martin. “Playing out of desperation at times when we really didn’t need to, but we seemed to be going for the knockout punch and sometimes that can backfire on you.”

“Our guys dug deep and they didn’t quit.” said Spartans assistant Nelson Campbell, filling in for Kerr-Vance head coach Rick Frampton, who missed the game with the birth of his son on Monday. “It was pretty evenly played and a good hard-fought physical game, but sometimes despite your effort, you end up on the losing side.”

Ridgecroft (9-6, 5-5CPIC) closes out its regular season with a trio of away games against Lawrence in Merry Hill on Wednesday, Arendall-Parrott Academy in Kinston on Friday and in Pantego against Terra Ceia on Tuesday.