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Smith, O'Connell propel Dale past Matoaca
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Apr 26, 2013, 21:38

Matoaca goalkeeper Jacob Williamson (left) gathers a loose ball as Thomas Dale senior Brooks Reiber (right) approaches during a Central District boys soccer game on Thursday in Chesterfield. The visiting Knights won 2-0 (photo by David Breidenbach).

CHESTERFIELD – It looked like a lost cause, but Brooks Reiber – a senior on the Thomas Dale boys soccer team – pursued Vaughn Fowler’s speculative cross with dogged determination anyway.

And it paid off.

Reiber somehow reached the lofted pass and sent a header in the direction of teammate Grayson Smith, who followed suit by looping a header toward goal. Smith’s offering dipped under the crossbar, giving the visiting Knights the all-important opening goal in a 2-0 Central District victory over Matoaca on Thursday.

The 39th-minute breakthrough shed light on the blue-collar mentality of a team often praised for its collective skill and creativity.

“We always talk about winning challenges, winning the ball in the air and winning second balls,” said Thomas Dale coach Mark Fowler. “That’s part and parcel of the game. You always have to earn the right to play.”

That Smith was in position to receive Reiber’s improvised pass was a testament to the senior’s own intuition. The nomadic, attack-minded midfielder started on the left flank but spent time in the center of the field and on the right side before game’s end.

“Grayson has a bit of a free role,” Mark Fowler said. “He finds seams, he’s very intelligent, his movement is very sharp and he’s always dangerous.”

Thomas Dale sophomore Marco Carrabotta (14) fights for possession with Matoaca senior Tyler Thrasher (10) on Thursday in Chesterfield (photo by David Breidenbach).
While the first goal was born of brawn, the second was born of brilliance.

In the 78th minute, Thomas Dale senior Evan Fowler sprung Johnny O’Connell with a perfectly weighted through ball that somehow eluded a handful of Matoaca defenders. O’Connell mustered a finish befitting of the pass, coolly chipping the ball over the Warriors’ onrushing goalkeeper to provide the final margin.

Both goals came with less than two minutes remaining in the half, spoiling an otherwise sterling defensive showing from the home team.

“We’re going to try to address that,” said second-year Matoaca coach Jay Parker. “We might have been a bit tired and our endurance might have failed us a little bit.”

Mark Fowler attributed the timing of the goals to attrition.

“Space opens up in the latter stages of the half,” Mark Fowler said. “If you’ve had the majority of the ball and you’re moving well, space opens up as defenders get tired.”

Thomas Dale certainly enjoyed the lion’s share of the ball.

Headlined by twin brothers and Longwood signees Vaughn and Evan Fowler, the Knights’ midfielders assembled a smattering of 10- and 15-pass sequences that forced the Warriors to chase the game for long stretches.

But more often than not, the visitors’ attacks were rendered toothless by a lack of quality in the final third.

“Our finishing was a little bit poor, but all credit goes to Matoaca there,” Mark Fowler said. “They defended very well and made it very difficult for us.”

The Knights held the Warriors without a shot on goal, forced eight saves from Matoaca netminder Jacob Williamson and held a 6-0 advantage in corner kicks.

With the loss, the Warriors fell to 4-5-1 on the season and 3-4-1 in district play. Parker, who counts four underclassmen among his starters, said he sees in Thomas Dale a team worth emulating.

“You look at teams like that and see the work ethic that they have, the way they play with class and how well-coached they are,” Parker said. “That’s what you want to become.”

Whereas the Warriors are clinging to hopes of clinching the district’s fourth and final postseason berth, the Knights (7-1, 7-1) have established themselves as the league frontrunner since sustaining an early loss to second-seeded Colonial Heights.

Still, Mark Fowler cautioned that the race for the regular-season title and the automatic bid to the Central Region tournament that goes along with it are far from secured.

“Every team in the district has a lot of pride and a lot of tenacity,” Mark Fowler said. “A loss or a tie puts us right back in the mix.”

The Warriors and Knights will meet again on Tuesday at Thomas Dale.

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