Royals Entering Elite Status
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 27, 2014, 16:26
Darion Mealing has been a danger man for the Royals all season long.
PRINCE GEORGE — As the minutes ticked by and the scoreboard became more tilted to the Royals' favor, there was both a sense of disbelief and quiet confidence. Prince George entered the 2014 season knowing the type of talent they had at their disposal.
They knew they had a chance to accomplish something special this year after a quick start to the season was already unfolding. But this game brought about a whole different set of emotions. The match against Thomas Dale was a coming-out party of sorts for a Royals' program attempting to arrive among the elite.
And after a first 40 minutes of dead-lock action, the Royals set shock-waves through the entire Knights' team with three second half tallies, each one more impressive than the next. The perennial contenders had no answer for the type of speed Prince George possessed as they fell to the Royals for the first time in 10 years.
Yet, the 4-1 victory was even more impressive for another reason.
The win marked the first time Thomas Dale head coach Mark Fowler had lost an old Central District game at home during his tenure. All of it added up to a type of enthusiasm that was 10 years in the making.
As the referee looked to his watch for the last time, he blew his whistle and crossed his hands in the air to signal the end of the match and the Royals' bench exploded. Players sprung to their feet and ran to greet their teammates who still barely cracked a smile as the business-first mentality remaining.
Royals' coach Tom Harrison and Fowler followed their teams through the game-ending handshakes, briefly sharing a moment after a win which seemed to shift balance of power within the region.
"We took a step in the right direction," Harrison would say after the win. "But you look at a team like Thomas Dale, they bring this type of effort to every game. If we want to be at that level, this is the type of effort we need to bring to every game."
Three games have since passed from the history-making win and there has yet to be a let-down from the experienced Royals.
Instead, the team has won all three games by a combined score of 7-2 with the last of the two wins coming in shutout form. Additionally, Prince George has now won six-consecutive matches since falling to Colonial Heights back on March. 27. That loss has seemed to be the wake-up call the Royals needed to reach their full potential.
Harrison said his team was stunned after surrendering a third minute strike to the Colonials and could never fully regroup. Instead of attempting to dictate the action, the Royals were content to kick the ball back-and-fourth with little sense of purpose.
But his team turned it all around in a dominating 5-1 win over Hopewell.
After allowing the Blue Devils to equalize, the Royals never wilted and tallied four more goals, including three in a seven-minute span which showed the character of the Royals.
"I think we struggled a little bit to begin this game and it was very similar to our game against Colonial Heights," Harrison said after the win over Hopewell. "We thought we had great possession against Colonial Heights, but when we got to the final third, we broke down ... I think tonight it finally clicked."
And it has continued to click for the Royals throughout this season as they picked up two critical wins over the last week and face a rematch against Colonial Heights April. 29.
A big reason for the success has been the ability to quickly build-up an attack through the back and the midfield. It starts with center back Jerron Ramsey who has deftly flushed out opponent's scoring chances while distributing with touch from the back and has continued through the midfield with Kam Smith.
In fact, Smith had himself one of his better games of the season against the Knights as he found the net twice — once on a left-footed blast to upper 90 and one which he hammered home off a blast from the crossbar.
Winn Watson and the rest of the midfield have excelled in hold-up play and knowing when to attack.
"I was most impressed with holding it up and his ability to come out," Harrison said of Smith's effort that night. "We've been on him to move back there and not stay so central to not make it easy of opponents to mark him."
But the biggest piece to the Royals' puzzle has been the steadying play of opportunistic striker Darion Mealing.
Mealing has been the danger man in almost every game this season with the way he makes runs in behind the defense, great on-the-ball skills and ruthless finishing ability. He displayed all of his tools in a hat-trick against Hopewell, finding net with a world-class individual effort against Thomas Dale and again against Matoaca last week.
"He's our go-to player," Harrison said of Mealing earlier this season.
And the Royals may be the go-to favorite when the Conference 12 Tournament begins in a few short weeks as Prince George continues to win and develop at the same time, making them a dangerous team to play over the final stretch.