SILER CITY — As special as the ceremonies, exhibits and celebrations have been to commemorate Los Jets’ 20th anniversary, Jordan-Matthews has found an even better way to honor the soccer program’s creation: winning.
The Jets earned their 14th victory of the season last Wednesday against the Graham Red Devils at home, 7-0, to remain unbeaten at 14-0-1.
Three-quarters of the way through the first half, it was a manageable 1-0 game, with the Jets hanging on to a small lead and looking for opportunities to add some insurance.
And then, suddenly, everything clicked.
In the game’s 33rd minute, Jordan-Matthews’ Anthony Rodriguez received a pass from Zander Ocampo near the right side of the goal. He stood there, dribbling and waiting for the goalkeeper to slide over to him before firing off a pass across the penalty area, where Paul Lujan was waiting to immediately tap the ball into the net.
That goal gave the Jets a 2-0 lead and began one of the most impressive scoring barrages of the season.
In the final 7 minutes, 46 seconds of the first half, the Jets scored five unanswered goals, including a three-minute span where they knocked in three goals, leading to the eventual 6-0 halftime score.
The Red Devils went from having a chance to going into full-on damage control mode, fighting not to win, but to simply stay afloat and fend off the nine-goal mercy rule.
“I think what happened was that they gained their confidence back and they found a sort of normal rhythm and pace on the attack,” Jets’ Head Coach Paul Cuadros said when asked about the last eight minutes of the first half. “And it took us a while to get there, but we kind of secured the game a little bit, which was nice. … Once they found their marks, they just poured it on.”
The second half was much less exciting on the goal-scoring front — only one goal was scored throughout the 40-minute half, which was a deep shot to the left side of the net by the Jets’ Irvin Campos in the 64th minute to make it 7-0 — but that wasn’t for a lack of trying.
In the second half alone, the Jets took 12 shots, including a couple that were narrowly off the mark.
With such a big lead, Cuadros made sure to get some players in the game who wouldn’t typically get to see the field, both to give them in-game experience and keep the starters fresh. But despite the substitutions, the Jets’ feet never came off of the gas.
In total, there were four different goal-scorers for the Jets against the Red Devils: Ocampo (three goals, hat trick), Lujan (two goals), Campos (one goal) and Alexis Ibarra (one goal).
“If you look at our goal scoring, you’ll see that it’s not dominated by any one player,” Cuadros said. “That wealth is spread all around and we’re really happy about that because it makes us multi-dimensional. You can’t stop us if you stop just one guy, you have to stop the entire team.”
As dominant as the final score was, it’s become commonplace for a Jets squad that’s firing on all cylinders.
Just five days later, on Monday, the Jets put on another dominant showing against the Cummings Cavaliers, winning a decisive 6-0 victory to improve to 15-0-1 on the season.
Jordan-Matthews’ offense has been on another level throughout September and October, having not scored fewer than six goals since its Sept. 3 game against Union Pines.
Monday’s game marked its 11th straight contest scoring at least six goals, a surprising feat in a sport that can often feature little offense.
But what might be even more impressive is the Jets’ defensive streak, having not allowed a single goal since Sept. 20 against North Moore, seven games — and nearly one month — ago. In the last seven games, J-M has outscored its opponents 53-0.
Its games against Graham and Cummings were just two more notches to add to its belt.
“We’ve been working on the defense having a particular shape and reaction when we lose the ball, so when we go from offense to defense, we want the backline to witness that it’s happening in front of them,” Cuadros said, “and then to begin to step back and start covering.”
The Jets’ backline and midfielders were exceptional against the Red Devils, limiting their time of possession to next-to-nothing and refusing to let them get off any shots. In the game against the Cavaliers, they allowed just one shot on goal.
In 160 minutes of game time, Graham and Cummings were able to muster just a single shot that had any chance of going into the net.
“Both (of our) goalkeepers are really good, but this is a really hard game for a goalkeeper because you have to keep your attention and then, all of a sudden, you’re on and you’ve got to save a goal,” Cuadros said. “They’re capable of doing that, but really it’s just our defensive shape that’s really helping (them).”
The Jets’ 15 victories so far this season is the most they’ve had in a regular season since 2017-18, where they finished the season 16-3-2 before making a run to the Elite Eight in the 2A state playoffs.
And having this kind of success during a season that marks such a special milestone for the program is the icing on the cake for Cuadros and his team. It just gives them one more reason to celebrate.
After every game this year, Cuadros has handed out Los Jets 20th anniversary stickers — his versions of game balls — to the players that gave the team a “spark” during the game, he said.
And at halftime of the game against Cummings, a group of Cuadros’ former players joined him at midfield for a small ceremony recognizing just how far the Los Jets soccer program has come over the last two decades.
“It was very special to step onto the field and see those guys — I haven’t seen some of those guys in a while — especially the original Jets, those guys who were here in 2002 and there were several of them,” Cuadros said on Monday after the win. “We fought so hard for these guys to be represented at that time and for them to feel included in the school … and they were able to achieve that.”
For Cuadros, who has a decorated career as both a journalist and a university professor, his time with Los Jets in Siler City might be what he’s most proud of, he said.
“Coaching the program has sort of become my life’s work, maybe even more so than my teaching or my writing,” Cuadros said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed it and connecting with the kids. And I still have a passion for the game. … It’s a privilege (to step onto that field). It’s beautiful.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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