Tuesday September 26th, 2017 3:52PM

Soccer: Woodward, Moseley fend off Red Elephants in title game

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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GAINESVILLE -- The Gainesville boys soccer team battled Woodward to a standstill for all but a few seconds of Saturday's Class AAA title game.

It was those few seconds -- and War Eagles striker Cameron Moseley -- that made the difference, however, as Moseley fought his way through the Red Elephants defense to score both Woodward goals in a 2-0 win at City Park.

The outcome denied Gainesville of its second state crown in three seasons and yielded the visiting War Eagles their first in three straight championship game attempts.

"We knew they were a strong team coming in and that we had to play to the best of our abilities," Red Elephants coach Rick Howard said. "I thought we did that with the exception of about five seconds tonight when they scored both goals."

Moseley scored the opener with 12:26 left in the first half, taking advantage of a defensive miscue to gather a Woodward cross and volley his close-range shot past Red Elephants goalkeeper Edgar Espinoza.

The towering striker bagged his second with just 2:15 remaining in the contest, sealing the victory courtesy a tight-rope act on the Gainesville endline before blasting a near-post shot that squeezed through the tightest of angles.

"He's an incredible player, and give him credit for scoring both goals," said Red Elephants senior Charlie Bryant, who opened the game in midfield before being forced to drop into defense after an injury to starter and teammate Alberto Murillo. "Goals in a game like this are a rare occurrence and create so much momentum shift. They took their chances to score tonight and we didn't."

Gainesville had plenty of opportunities to break onto the scoreboard -- especially early, as the Red Elephants dominated the first 15 minutes and came close on three chances -- including a one-on-one with Woodward goalkeeper Alex Robinson for striker Yunis Yanes just six minutes into the contest.

Yet third-ranked Gainesville (19-2-1) could not find the back of the net, and the game developed into a physical midfield battle, with neither team able to gain much of an upper hand -- until Moseley turned the game.

"I love my teammates, and we gave it every single thing we had tonight; sometimes the breaks just don't go your way," Bryant said. "I'm just so thankful I had a chance to play with every single one of them."

The loss brought to an end Gainesville's impressive season, which included a Region 8-AAA title and second state championship appearance in three seasons.

"This season we could have folded the tents a couple of times when we had guys get hurt or playing in close games," Howard said. "But every single time we had guys step up. I'm so proud of these guys; they did a wonderful job all season. Their tenacity and hard work was phenomenal."

Gainesville's determination was evident from the opening kickoff on Saturday, as midfielders Aidan Reising, Ricardo Gomez, Douglas Mejia and Bryant took charge, putting the top-ranked War Eagles (18-3-1) under pressure with quick passes and penetrating runs.

The group also battled for every loose ball, and a Reising tackle looked set to give the Red Elephants a lead when the senior won possession and played Yanes through on a looping pass with 34 minutes left in the first half. Yet the senior couldn't get the better of Robinson, rolling his close-range shot just wide of goal.

Three minutes later Reising tried his own luck and had Robinson scrambling with a chipped shot that curled just over the Woodward crossbar. And a minute after that Robinson had to be alert to deny a 22-yard blast from Mejia.

After surviving the opening moments, however, Woodward began to play its way back into the contest, and Moseley served notice when he headed just wide of goal with 26 minutes left in the half.

Possessing size, speed and skill, the War Eagles striker began to bring all three facets to bear just before the interval, creating havoc in the Red Elephants on a number of occasions -- including for the opening goal, when the Gainesville defense failed to head clear on a cross from the right wing. The Woodward sophomore deadened the ball with a chest trap and side-footed the ensuing shot home from eight yards out for a 1-0 lead.

Reising so nearly equalized only 30 seconds later, heading a Gainesville free kick just wide of goal from 12 yards, and the Red Elephants reached halftime trailing.

"This was a kind of a chess match," Howard said. "We'd adjust to try and take advantage of some things, and they'd adjust and begin to shut that down, so we'd adjust again."

The battle for control of midfield continued into the second half, with shots on goal coming and few and far between for both teams.

Holding the lead, Woodward seemed comfortable with denying the Red Elephants' attacks -- and responding with quick outlet passes to Moseley.

"Gainesville's a good side, a very talented side, but I thought we shut them out of the game fairly well," Woodward coach Matt Holmes said. "We defended well and maintained our shape. We knew it was always going to be a tight game, and I thought we put in a complete performance tonight."

Gainesville steamed forward on a number of attacks over the final 40 minutes but found tough going in creating shots on goal, as the War Eagles shut down passing lanes and squeezed out the space available to midfielders and forwards.

Reising forced a save from Robinson on a 30-yard attempt with 20 minutes remaining, but it was the keeper's last save until the final whistle.

Meanwhile, Moseley bided his time before creating an impressive finish, beating one defender while keeping the ball inbounds before caroming a shot off the inside of the Red Elephants upright to seal the outcome.

"My hat's off to Gainesville, but third time was lucky for us tonight, and that's just a dream come true," Holmes said.

The Red Elephants will return a number of key players for next season's team, including Gomez and Mejia, but also graduate eight seniors, including starters Nathan Dillard, Christian Gomez, Merly Velasquez, Espinoza, Reising and Bryant.

"It just didn't bounce our way today," Howard said. "I can't say enough about our seniors. If I taught them a third of what they taught me then I'll be happy, because they taught me a lot, and they're leaving an incredible legacy."
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