CLAYTON — Millbrook’s opportunistic offense overcame an aggressive effort by Clayton to earn the Wildcats a 3-1 upset win the second round of the state 4A soccer playoffs Saturday night.
The Comets kept Millbrook (12-7-3) close through the first half, giving up a single goal before the break.
But a second goal less than three minutes into the second half gave Millbrook the breathing room it needed.
Millbrook coach Matt Edwards said a second-half emphasis on widening the field helped his team advance.
“We just wanted to use the entire width of the field and keep them outside on the edges,” Edwards said. “Defensively, we really just wanted to try clog up the middle.”
Both teams played evenly through the first 30 minutes of the contest. Clayton played like the aggressor, maintaining the ball, passing with purpose and harrassing the Millbrook’s wings.
But the Comets missed a number of early opportunities to break out on top and force Millbrook to play from behind.
“We had our chances out there tonight,” Clayton coach William Williams said. “But we couldn’t capitalize. We knew we had a tall order out here tonight and when you miss those chances to score, well, you’re not going to win.”
After nearly 30 minutes of back-and-forth soccer, Millbrook finally broke through first when Daniel Cobo got behind a Clayton defender and took a pass down the right side from Brandon Weisinger and knocked it in the left corner past Clayton keeper Jackson Keener.
The Wildcats’ insurance goal came early in the second half when Robby Lange, a sophomore who was called up from the junior varsity squad for the playoffs got his foot into a ball from Austin Maune to make the score 2-0 with 37:20 to play in the game.
Clayton had a chance at that point to throw up their hands and play out the string, but they weren’t ready to quit.
Brandon Sainz, who had several near misses including a free kick that clanged off the cross bar in the first half, finally got one into the back of the net against Wildcat keeper Andrew Fiest with 18:15 to play and the tension picked up noticeably.
Millbrook picked up an unassisted goal from Brantley Garrett with 10:48 when he caught up with a loose ball in a scrum in front of the net to end the scoring with the Wildcats up 3-1.
At that point, Millbrook started putting the second part of Edwards’ plan into place, clogging the middle of the field with defenders to keep Clayton from getting the ball out in space.
The win moves Millbrook into a third-round match up against another Wake County squad, top-seeded Green Hope.
Clayton ends the season 18-3-2. Williams said that mark exceeded a lot of expectations.
“I don’t think too many people thought we would be here after we lost so many players off last year’s team,” Williams said.
Whitfield: 919-829-4823; Twitter: @easternwakenews