BENSON — West Johnston used a three-goal burst in the second half to turn back Johnston County rival Cleveland 3-2 in a Wednesday night match.
After a scoreless first half, Cleveland senior Jhavonte Moon scored the first of his two goals – finding the net from about 20 yards out on the left side on an assist from senior Fed Planchon to give the Rams (1-4) a 1-0 lead in the 53rd minute.
West Johnston (3-1) answered with the aforementioned three consecutive goals.
Wildcats senior John Atherholt, a scrappy player and excellent ball handler who was in the middle of the action all night, knotted the score at 1 three minutes later with a goal from 25 yards out on the right side.
“My teammates were able to play a lot of through balls so I could put pressure on them,” Atherholt said. “They really helped me out.”
Atherholt said that the Wildcats seemed to wear down the Rams in the second half, winning more free balls and as a result getting more good shots on goal.
“In the second half, our conditioning definitely showed, with us winning more 50-50 balls,” Atherholt said. “I think that was big.”
Cleveland coach Fabrizio Bonilla also pointed to the pace in the second half as a factor in the outcome.
“In the beginning of the game, we played possession, played our game,” Bonilla said. “We fell into their game in the second half, through balls. Basically, they out-conditioned us. We didn’t possess.
“We won the first half. They won the second half.”
With about seven minutes left in the match, sophomore Ben Meshaw put the Wildcats up for good with a nice piece of one-on-one offense. Meshaw took a pass from Cristian Torres and streaked down the left sideline. When he got to the corner, he dribbled past a defender and found himself in open space to the left of the Rams’ goal.
Meshaw boomed a shot past Cleveland keeper Giovanni Solis into the right corner of the net to make it 2-1.
“I put it right between (the defender’s) legs and moved up in front of the keeper,” Meshaw said. “Then I just had to make the shot.”
A few minutes later, West Johnston went up 3-1 when three players broke past the Cleveland defense and had only the keeper to beat. Junior Seth Bondurant booted it over Solis’ head into the left corner of the net to make it 3-1 with less than five minutes left.
With two minutes left in the match, Moon was fouled just outside the right corner of the box and received a free kick. From 25 yards out, Moon drilled a high, arching shot past the wall of West Johnston defenders and off the outstretched fingertips of the West keeper into the back of the net.
West Johnston, a member of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, moves into conference play Monday at Knightdale. They will take some momentum with them after the victory over their 3A rival.
It’s a friendly rivalry, with most of the players knowing each other. But it’s one that is important for both teams. West completed a season sweep of the Rams, winning 3-1 at Cleveland earlier this season.
“That is the favorite team to play right there, Cleveland,” Atherholt said. “They are rivals. I wouldn’t want to play anyone else going into conference.”