Jets’ electrifying second-half performance seals season-opening soccer win over Chargers

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SILER CITY — Most flights get canceled when lightning strikes in the area.

But the Jets just powered right through.

Jordan-Matthews’ men’s soccer team (1-0) earned a season-opening victory on Thursday evening, 4-1, in an inter-county battle against the formerly unbeaten Northwood Chargers (2-1).

Despite sweltering heat, 90-degree temperatures and sporadic flashes of lightning — which ultimately led to a 30-minute second-half delay — the Jets weathered the storm of obstacles to take home their first win of the young season.

And the game’s turning point can be defined by one well-executed moment.

Mere minutes into the second half, J-M’s Brian Hernandez — dribbling the ball in Northwood territory — lured a Chargers defender in the direction of midfield before spinning around, cutting to his left and outpacing him as he charged toward the goalkeeper.

Once he lost the defender, another came up to pressure him, acting as the last line of defense before the keeper. Hernandez, thinking quickly, dumped it off to Alexis Ibarra, a 2020-21 all-state selection, who took an almost immediate 25-yard shot that forcefully floated in between two Chargers and over the keeper’s head before smashing against the top right corner of the net.

Ibarra’s stunning goal — made possible by Hernandez’s high-I.Q. play — gave the Jets a 2-1 lead they’d never relinquish, leading to the team’s first win of the 2021-22 season.

“Ibarra’s strike from distance in the 45th minute for the go-ahead goal was the stuff of movies,” Kevin Forster, Northwood’s head coach, said. “We gave him too much space and he made us pay.”

From that point forward, J-M scored two insurance goals — including one on a header by Paul Lujan off of a beautiful deep pass from Armando Rocha in the 60th minute, followed by a goal of Hernandez’s own in the 68th minute — that sealed the victory.

With just 20 minutes left to play and the Jets leading 3-1, a vibrant flash of lightning in the sky forced the 30-minute delay, despite no rain, due to the NCHSAA’s inclement weather guidelines.

Even after the break — which saw all of the players, coaches and spectators head into the school to wait out the lightning — J-M never faltered, aside from a goal by Northwood’s Gabriel de Bueno that was erased by an offsides call.

“We have some firepower up front, so we want to be able to distribute that as much as possible and not be one-dimensional,” Paul Cuadros, in his 20th season as the Jets’ head coach, said after the game. “It’s very dynamic, so it’s really difficult to defend against them, because they’re tricky, too. They’re going to dribble around you, cut inside you, cut outside you or just flat-out beat you on the run.”

For most of the contest, namely the first half, the Chargers’ defenders were up to the task of defending J-M’s speed and agility.

Northwood midfielder Walker Johnson was one of the stars of the show, singled out by Forster for his ability to lock down the middle and “(bring) great energy” on the field.

The Chargers’ keeper, Jay Callis, had 10 saves on the night and was visibly one of the team’s biggest leaders, consistently communicating with his teammates using callouts that could be heard from even the highest part of the stands.

Yet, the second half proved that you can only hold the Jets back for so long.

“J-M produced two absolute quality playoff-type goals in their first game of the season,” Forster said, “so you’ve gotta tip your cap to them.”

Despite the Jets’ three-goal win, the game was much closer than the final score indicates.

In the first half, Northwood opened up the game’s scoring with a goal by Gabriel Chirino on a deep assist from Adam Beaulieu. Chirino waited for Ricardo Rocha, the Jets’ keeper, to step up in the box before slotting a shot to the left side of the net and giving his team a 1-0 lead.

It took until the 27th minute for J-M to get on the board, which came off of a shot by Zander Ocampo on a gutsy pass from Lujan.

The half wasn’t the cleanest for the Jets, who got beat a few times by the speed of Northwood’s Chirino and Jose Enamorado, but taking a 1-1 game into the break felt like a win for both teams, who were locked into a competitive rivalry match with stormy conditions looming.

Cuadros credits some of the team’s first-half struggles to nerves and emotions.

After all, it was the Jets’ first time on the field this season compared to it being Northwood’s third game in four days.

“It was just (about) settling down since this is our first game,” Cuadros said. “I think if we had a scrimmage before, we would be much more on point. Guys are learning new positions, guys are learning how to handle their feelings and nerves and all that kind of stuff.”

But J-M wasted no time taking over the final 40 minutes, shutting the Chargers out for the remainder of the game while knocking in three goals of their own throughout the half.

“In the first half, we were definitely not winning as many balls as we should have, so that really allowed Northwood to stay in the game,” Cuadros said. “Once we kind of cemented that and locked that down, then we began to find opportunities.”

Thursday’s contest marked the Jets’ first win over the Chargers since 2017, having gone 0-1-1 against them over the last three seasons, including a 7-0 thrashing by Northwood during the 2019 season.

“There’s no doubt about it, it’s a rivalry game,” Cuadros said. “It’s always an interesting game because of that. The boys are going at each other, so it has a bit of a playoff-level experience to it because people want to win for pride for the county.”

Coming off of a 10-2, conference title-winning season that saw them win a playoff game before falling in the second round, the Jets are primed — with three all-conference returners and plenty of veteran leadership — to compete for the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference title this season.

And the Chargers, who earned two wins against Seaforth and Carrboro by a combined score of 8-1 before falling to the J-M on Thursday, have a great shot to do the same in the Central 3A.

“In the end, this is a rivalry game and we lost, so now we have to learn from the loss and see how we can improve from here as a team,” Forster said. “I hate it for our seniors and I hate to lose, but we will be better because of this game. Hopefully, we have a great season ahead and J-M does as well.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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