Three weeks ago, Connor Williams was on the ground writhing in pain with an injured ankle, wondering if his high school soccer career was over.
In his first match back from that injury on Tuesday night, the University High senior forward took a big step forward. His goal in the fourth minute spurred the Junior Bucs to a 6-0 victory over Chuckey-Doak in the Region 1-A/AA semifinals at Civitan Park.
“I was quite out of shape where I hadn’t played in three weeks, but it was good to come back and get that first goal,” said Williams after heading in a cross by Kevin Mast. “I’m probably only about 50 percent right now and to be able to finish that, it seemed like it set the momentum for us.
“It was probably one of my better goals of the season. I was just happy to be back on the field again.”
With the victory, University High (13-2) advanced to Thursday’s Region 1-A/AA championship against Greeneville. The Junior Bucs also advanced to Saturday’s sectional round with a state tournament berth on the line.
Both head coach Victor Chirica and assistant coach Tony Snapp praised their team’s effort.
“The midfield controlled the ball and we had a lot of shots,” Snapp said. “We didn’t finish a lot early, but Connor coming back today and getting that goal less than five minutes in was a big asset to the guys and his confidence. We had some good looks at the goal and had a good effort.”
Overall, the Junior Bucs outshot Chuckey-Doak 26-4, with a 15-2 advantage in the first half. Westley Ongtengco scored UH’s second goal in the 22nd minute off a penalty kick.
Five minutes into the second half, Mast made it 3-0 with a strike from around 12 yards out off an assist from Federico Aghito. In the 50th minute, Mast added his second assist of the match, this time to freshman Tani Houston for a 4-0 lead.
Mast, a senior midfielder, said his passing skills are no accident, and that he gets more joy from seeing his teammates score goals than his goals.
“The quick touches on the ball, I’ve always wanted to do that and I practice it at home,” Mast said. “It helps me get it quicker to the center for the best shots.
“One of my favorite parts of playing with these guys, I feel as gratified if I score or if they score, even if I’m not the one passing the ball.”
It was an all-around effort, which led to University High’s victory. The defense gave up just four shots, three of them on free kicks by the Black Knights’ Birkier Viddison. Otherwise, the Junior Bucs did a bang-up job marking Viddisson, who had set a Chuckey-Doak school record with 26 goals this season.
“Coming into the game, No. 7 (Viddison) was their offensive threat and we wanted to stop him,” Snapp said. “The defense stood pretty tall back there and he didn’t have a shot on goal all game.
“He got frustrated halfway through the second half because he couldn’t do anything and that’s what we wanted. It worked out to our favor.”
Back on the offensive end, Aghito had a near-miss in the 61st minute when his left-footed attempt bounced off the crossbar. Nick Fabus, who spent a large portion of the match marking Viddison, then scored off a tap from Collin Newberry in the 70th minute.
There was another reward for an outstanding defensive effort as Logan Webb scored the last UH goal off a cross by Aghito.
Chuckey-Doak finished its season 7-9-1, meaning the final contest for a pair of fourth-year seniors Giovanni Jimenez and Wes Carroll, as well as fellow senior Steven Berry.
“We’ve had sickness on the team, tons of injuries. We went from 23 players down to 14,” C-D head coach Anna Ricker said. “So for us to advance to this point is amazing, because we’ve gone through so much adversity this season. Today, we just never found that breakthrough moment.”
University High will be looking for that moment against Greeneville, anxious to avenge a 9-0 loss from nearly three weeks ago.
“We’re ready and the guys are ready,” Snapp said. “We’ve got Connor back and we’ve got our keeper (Ben Page) back. That’s a big asset to have our starting keeper back as far as confidence. We’re going to mix it up and try some different things. I think it will be a little different situation than last time.”