The PUFC Puma Predators traveled to Mooresville, N.C., to compete in the Race City Classic. They played in the top U11 Legends division, which was represented with teams from North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
The first game was played in sleet and snow against CSA Cabarrus blue. Devin Jones assisted Jackson Coleman on a breakaway that resulted in a goal. Mitchell Clark lofted a corner kick that Coleman headed in for another goal. Coleman then assisted Alec Nelson for a one-on-one goal. Ethan Stevenson was brought down in the penalty box and was awarded a penalty kick, which he netted. Jones then beat three defenders and then beat the keeper on a one-on-one to score the final goal of the game, clinching a 5-3 win.
Dawson Malcolm, Connor Walsh and Jeremy Kirwin were credited with outstanding defense, while Colin Phillips and Jackson Stove provided midfield dominance.
The second game, the clouds cleared. PUFC Predators shut out the SGCSA Flames White 6-0. Coleman, Jones, Stevenson, Stove and Walsh were credited with goals. Coleman, Malcolm, Jones, Stevenson and Nelson had assists. Christian Erwin recorded his first shutout of the tournament. Clark and Kirwin were recognized for their aggressive defensive play.
The semi-final game March 3 was played in 20-degree weather against the TCYSA Twins Blue, the 23rd-ranked team in North Carolina. Jones chipped the ball to Nelson who then converted for a goal. Nelson and Coleman each connected on direct kicks just outside the penalty box. Stove then made a run down the right wing, beating two defenders, then launching a laser to the back of the net to close out scoring 4-0 and assuring the team a place in the finals. Erwin recorded his second shutout of the weekend. Nico Marscilio started several attacking runs and was distributing the ball very well. Phillips and Stevenson were creative in their midfield play organizing counter attacks. Defensively, team captain Malcolm led the defense and shut down any mounting attacks from the opposition.
The score changed several times. The final was against home club LNSC Force Dynamo, the 24th-ranked team in North Carolina. PUFC jumped to a quick 2-0 lead with goals by Nelson and assist from Stevenson and Jones. LNSC matched the score 2-2 within 10 minutes and then scored a go-ahead goal to lead 3-2. Clark took a corner kick he curved in to tie the score 3-3. . Then the team took the lead on a direct kick from 25 yards out that Coleman put in the top right corner. LNSC scored again to tie the game 4-4. Marscilio provided a spark in the second half with aggressive play at striker. The defense repeatedly pushed back stopped all offensive advances for the final 20 minutes of the game.
In the last four minutes, Coleman made a run down the right wing and crossed the ball into the penalty box where the LNSC defender trying to keep the shot from going in the goal committed a hand ball, which resulted in a penalty kick for PUFC. Alec Nelson put the ball into the left side netting to seal a 5-4 victory and the championship.
The team will compete March 23-24 in the Ray Thompsett Invitational in Rock Hill.
Submitted by Todd Sykes